A controversial ‘bedroom tax’ could leave hard-pressed Leeds families up to £925 a year out of pocket.
The Government plans to cut housing benefit to people who are living in council or social housing which has a ‘spare’ bedroom.
Those with one empty room – even if it is in use much of the time – will lose 15 per cent of their benefit while those with two will lose 25 per cent.
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 to visit could also be penalised. People who are disabled, who often have larger homes because of the need for adaptations, could be especially hard hit.
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’.
Around 20,000 households in Leeds are living in social housing considered to be ‘under-occupied’.
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 – or up to £923 a year – when the changes are introduced in 2013.
Today experts warned that families face falling into debt or being forced to move home – even though there is a desperate shortage of social housing.
Leeds City Council’s housing boss Coun Peter Gruen (Lab, Cross Gates and Whinmoor) had deeper concerns.
He told the YEP: “We seem to live in a very harsh world under this Government. People are seen as chess pieces. The Government is shuffling those pieces around until they get ‘check mate’ – which seems to be someone’s misery.
“The people who caused these problems – the bankers – are not suffering. People who have had nothing to do with this are losing their jobs and benefits and the only one there to pick up the pieces is the local authority which is having cuts of £90m this year and £60m next.
“Everyone is being pushed and they know they have to take some of the burden. If you’re seeing taxes increase to pay for the NHS and schools, then people accept that.
“But if you see people at the bottom being penalised and thrown out of their homes ..? That will lead to an increase in divorces, hardships, depression and suicides.”
Derek Long, head of the north of the National Housing Federation, added: “This will have disastrous implications for a huge number of people already struggling.
“In the vast majority of cases, people will simply not be able to make up the shortfall themselves and could end up being sucked into poverty and spiralling levels of debt.”
The housing benefit changes are being introduced from April 2013 as part of the Government’s Welfare Reform Bill, currently going through the House of Lords.
The Government says it wants to ‘improve work incentives, simplify the benefits system and tackle administrative complexity’.