More than than 30,000 people are claimed to be at risk of losing their homes in Leeds.
Thousands of hard-pressed families face the stark choice of either keeping their homes or benefits under new Government reforms.
More than 16,369 households in Leeds and Wakefield could be affected by the controversial ‘bedroom tax’ according to figures released by the National Housing Federation.
The reform, which will be rolled out in April, means that people living in council or social housing with a ‘spare’ bedroom could face cuts to their benefits.
Some of the worst affected areas in the city would include Burmantofts and Richmond Hill, Killingbeck and Seacroft and Middleton Park.
Leeds City Council’s housing boss Coun Peter Gruen (Lab, Cross Gates and Whinmoor) said the reform will be a “disaster”.
“We know it’s going to be a disaster,” he said.
“We have seen a 40 per cent increase in people coming to our front door thinking they might be homeless.
“It’s not scare mongering, it’s a fact.”
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.
Figures reveal that council tenants in Leeds look set to lose almost £4million worth of benefits.
Letters are being sent out this week to let council tenants know if they will be affected.
Rob Warm, lead manager for the National Housing Federation in Yorkshire and the Humber, warned families are being penalised.
He said: “It is absolutely penalising families who have got nowhere to move to.
“It is punishing people for not being able to find work in this current environment which is really unfair.
“We know it’s really hard for people across Leeds at the moment.
“Housing costs have spiralled while wages have stood still, so more people than ever are reliant on housing benefit, even in work.
“Welfare changes will mean there will be less money in the pockets of some of the poorest families in the city.”
Mr Warm warned that the economy in Leeds could suffer as a result of people having to tighten their purse-strings.
He also stressed that there needs to be more investment in new homes in Leeds.
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’.
According to figures from the National Housing Federation, the average weekly rent on a three-bed social housing property in Leeds is £71, which means affected families face losing between £10.65 and £17.75 a week.
When the changes are introduced next year households could lose up to £923 a year.
The housing benefit changes are being introduced as part of the Government’s Welfare Reform Bill.
But Coun Gruen has warned that it is just the first phase of cuts that will hit residents hard.
He added: “This is not just going to hit people you don’t know.
“Most people in Leeds will know someone who has been affected by this.
“It’s only the first phase and there will be further phases of this to come.
“You can’t look at these cuts in isolation.
“Lots of people already say this week I’m going to pay for food, next week utilities and the week after housing because they can’t afford to pay for everything in the same week.
“Whether it is disability reform or housing benefits the Government are deliberately picking on the weakest people in society.”
Jenny Brierley, chief executive of Leeds-based Connect Housing, said there would be help on hand to support tenants coping with the changes.
She added: “Helping tenants cope with the benefit changes is a major priority.
“The drop in Housing Benefit due to under-occupancy is particularly hard to cope with as household budgets are already stretched, whether people are in work or not.
“We estimate that over 350 of our tenants in Leeds alone will be in this position.
“Smaller affordable homes are not available in the numbers needed so moving to a smaller place is simply not an option for most people.”