'Bedroom tax's' impact on northern families


BBC Inside Out looks at how the bedroom tax will impact on a community in Spennymoor in County Durham

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 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.

'Bedroom' tax - spare room rules

Model bedroom with children
  • One person or couple - one bedroom only
  • Two same-sex children - share one bedroom until aged 16
  • Two opposite-sex children - share until aged 10
  • Pensioners - exempt
  • Bereaved - exempt for 12 months

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.

Chris Jackson Article written by Chris Jackson Chris Jackson Presenter, Inside Out, North East & Cumbria

Inside Out returns for a new series in 2015

Inside Out returns for a new series in 2015 but Chris Jackson's blog is coming to an end and he can now be found on social media.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    It's just amazing these days how so many people believe that someone else is responsible for paying for the care of their children, their house, their council tax, their dentist, their glasses and their healthcare. The list is endless. Three of the people who featured in your programme tonight lived in a house on their own. Crazy!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    That's maybe something to do with wreckless spending under the previous goverment?? A significant number of people willing to play and abuse the system and not take responsibility for their own lifes may add to the problem?? Would always agree that those in genuiune need should be helped though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    I live alone in a 2 bedroom flat - I didn't choose to live here but was placed here by Emergency Housing after homelessness. This is now my home, I put a lot into it and even if I wanted to move I can't afford the cost of moving and redecorating another home, nor would my health be up to moving! My situation is not as bad as others, but we're all being bullied for being poor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    It is worth knowing that if you get Child Benefit for a child you have a 2 bedroom room requirement. If you have more than one child your former partner may be prepared to share the family allowance by both of you claiming individually for each child. Child benefit can be transferred if couples are happy to do this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I am willing to downsize from my 3 bedroom house to a 2 bedroom house, I want to move to a different council from where I am currently living because all my family live in the "other" council area. I have been placed into Band D (low housing need) by this council. How are we expected to downsize when we aren't being helped by the councils to do so. Not asking for the moon, only a 2 bedroom house.


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