Growing numbers of council tenants are struggling to pay their bills following changes to the housing benefit system, city leaders have warned.
New figures from Leeds City Council show that 2,800 tenants receiving housing benefit who had clear rent accounts before the change, which came into effect in April, have now fallen behind on their payments. The Government changed the rules on housing benefit so that tenants judged to have one or more spare bedrooms lose some of their payments.
Ministers argue the move is needed to discourage people from staying in council or housing association properties with more room than they need.
But opponents argue there are not enough smaller properties for families who currently live in “under-occupied” homes.
Peter Gruen, council executive board member responsible for neighbourhoods, planning and support services, said: “The overall figures speak for themselves; over 50 per cent of tenants affected by under-occupation who had clear rent accounts before these changes were brought in are now falling into rent arrears after just seven weeks, and through no fault of their own.
“We predicted before the changes came into place that there would be increasing numbers of tenants going into rent arrears and the difficulty that councils will face.
“Since under-occupation was introduced, we as a council are having to collect an extra £78,500 each week from tenanted properties.”
Coun Gruen added: “We knew this was going to be a difficult time for people affected and, therefore, have already committed further resources to provide targeted support for tenants affected by the changes, and also ensure rent is collected for the benefit of all tenants.”
Just a few weeks into the current financial year, the council is already facing rent arrears of £138,000.
Around 7,000 council tenants are affected by the under-occupancy charge on housing benefit, branded the bedroom tax by its critics.
The council announced last month it was “re-designating” the number of bedrooms in more than 800 homes in council properties. Just under one third of the tenants in the homes were judged to be under-occupying their properties.