'Bedroom tax's' impact on northern families

  • 11 February 2013
  • From the section Tyne & Wear
  • comments

Officially it's called the 'under-occupancy charge' but critics have dubbed it the 'bedroom tax'.

The government's aim is to cut the welfare bill.

Housing benefit costs the UK taxpayer £23 billion a year.

Ministers don't think it is unreasonable to ask why the state is paying benefit to people who are renting properties bigger than they need.

From April tenants with 'spare' rooms will lose some of their benefit - around £13 week on average for one extra room.

The alternative is to move into somewhere smaller.

Impact on communities

As with all universal laws, the principle becomes tested when applied to the myriad of personal circumstances.

In anticipation of this, pensioners are exempt.

It would have been politically difficult to ask the elderly to move out of their homes as they enter their twilight years.

Sue Brannigan however isn't.

She and her husband brought up their four children in their council home in Spennymoor, County Durham.

They never claimed benefits.

Sue Brannigan is worried about the future of her council home in Spennymoor

But when her husband Peter died just over a year ago, Sue had to sign on.

As a claimant she faces losing £100 a month unless she moves. Losing her partner ultimately means losing her home.

Sue wants to downsize and agrees that a four bed home is too big for someone on her own.

What she resents is being told to do so and when.

Her children live nearby on the same Tudhoe Estate. However, there is nowhere small enough in the area for her to move in to.

She faces leaving the community, friends and family she has lived with for decades.

The local housing association estimates it has 1,400 homes that are under occupied, yet it only has four one-bedroom flats available.

'Spare' rooms

Across the North East other housing associations report similar concerns.

This is not what the Jacques family want to hear.

They also live on the Tudhoe estate but with a sixth child on the way, they need somewhere larger than their three-bedroomed house.

Tonight's programme also looks at the grey area of just what constitutes a spare room.

One example is of a couple who have split up and the father has his teenage son stay over on occasions.

Should the state be deciding whether or not he needs a second bedroom?

The government is adamant the changes are fair.

It insists the benefits bill is out of control and must be addressed.

But critics fear the nanny state is quite literally crossing a threshold and should be shown the door.

As always your thoughts and comments are most welcome...

Inside Out North East & Cumbria is broadcast on Monday, 11 February at 19:30 GMT. It is also available nationwide for seven days thereafter on iPlayer.