Thousands of hard-pressed social housing and council tenants across Leeds ARE faced with the stark reality of either keeping their homes or benefits under new Government reforms. Laura Bowyer reports.
Up to 30,000 people in Leeds look set to be affected by the Government’s controversial welfare reforms - dubbed Bedroom tax - which will come into force next month.
Housing benefits will be slashed for working-age tenants in council or housing association homes, where tenants are considered to have more bedrooms than they need.
Some of the worst affected areas in the city will include Burmantofts and Richmond Hill, Killingbeck and Seacroft and Middleton Park.
As part of the squeeze council and social housing tenants look set to lose more than £9m worth of benefits.
Households with one ‘empty room’ - even if it is in use - will lose 15 per cent of their benefit while those with two could lose 25 per cent.
Experts have warned that families could end up spiralling into debt or be forced to move - even though there is a social housing shortage in the region.
But a dedicated team of campaigners in the city are calling on people to “stay calm and keep put”.
Campaigners from Hands Off Our Homes are calling on Leeds City Council and local housing authorities to call on the Government to scrap Bedroom Tax.
The organisation, which was set up in 2005 by a group of tenants and homeowners, hopes to prevent people from being thrown out of their homes.
Campaigners have hosted a series of call-to-arms meetings across Leeds and chairman John Davies said that more and more people are turning to them for help as tenants start to realise how the changes will transform their lives.
He said: “Some people are getting letters from housing associations and the council will soon be sending their letters out.
“They will say how much people will have to find and the proverbial will hit the fan completely.
“One woman has £24 left to feed and clothe herself but her housing association has asked for £20 leaving her with just £4.
“Our advice to people is to stay calm and keep put because there’s nowhere to go.
“It’s absolutely crackers.
“They talk about how it’s meant to solve the housing crisis but it’s got nothing to do with it.”
Under the new rules a room could be considered ‘empty’ if children have rooms of their own, rather than sharing, and separated parents who keep a room for their offspring could also be penalised.
People who are disabled, who often have larger homes because of adaptations, could be among those who are hit hard.
And foster carers will receive a cut even where their bedrooms are occupied by foster children, who for housing benefit purposes, do not count as part of the household’.
The YEP reported last month that there were fears hundreds of families across Leeds could be forced to move into high rise flats.
The warning came from Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves who said that the so-called Bedroom Tax could force tenants to downsize their homes.
But council bosses pledged to avoid moving families into high-rise flats.
Councillor Peter Gruen, executive member responsible for neighbourhoods, said that the cuts would have a huge impact on Leeds.
He added: “What we can’t do is simply pull houses out of a hat and say here they are.
“We think it’s the same people who are being hit by more cuts, the very poorest people who have never had to pay council tax. Thousands and thousands will have to pay.
“The same people probably will be part time workers and they will have to make choices of what to pay.
“Ministers are determined to see this through and I think at some stage there will be an outcry.”
He added: “People think it’s only people on benefits that will be affected but we know that 60 per cent of people who get housing benefit actually work. It’s ordinary people who are trying to do a decent days work and I think people will be appauled.”
Rob Warm, Yorkshire and Humber lead manager for the National Housing Federation, added: ”I think we’re going to see more and more people getting into arrears.
“It will take a large amount out of the local economy.
“We lobbied hard at the start and said it is the wrong policy.
“The public and politicians are waking up to notice this will really impact on people. Long term it is about making sure we build enough houses in the community to meet different housing needs.”
Mr Warm added: “There is no easy solution. The people this will impact are normal working people. Each one of these is an individual who will have to find a way to make ends meet and that will be really hard.”
All working-age tenants who are deemed to have at least one spare bedroom will be affected. This includes:
* Separated parents who share the care of their children and who may have been allocated an extra bedroom.
* Couples who use their ‘spare’ bedroom when recovering from an illness or operation
* Foster carers because foster children are not counted as part of the household for benefit purposes
* Parents whose children visit but are not part of the household
* Families with disabled children
* Disabled people including people living in adapted or specially designed properties.
* Tenants of pension age are exempt.