'Bedroom tax': Wales benefit change homelessness fears

Fiona Dymore says it's wrong her young son and daughter should be forced to share a bedroom

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The body representing tenants in Wales is warning that up to 4,000 people could be forced into homelessness over "bedroom tax" housing benefit changes.

Housing association and council tenants of working age will see benefits cut if they are deemed to have spare bedrooms.

From April it means a 14% cut for one spare room and 25% if they have two.

The UK government says such tenants should contribute to rent if a home is bigger than needed, but the Welsh government is "extremely concerned".

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What we estimate is that 10% of these tenants were already indebted to their landlords... so it's likely that 4,000 could be made homeless as a consequence”

End Quote Steve Clarke Welsh Tenants Federation

Families will also be expected to put children into the same bedroom, depending on their age and gender.

That means separate bedrooms will only be allocated to a brother and sister if they are over the age of 10, or same sex siblings when they are over 16.

About 100,000 families in Wales rent from a "social" landlord and receive housing benefits.

Tenants say they face benefit cuts unless they agree to a smaller home. But housing associations say those smaller houses do not exist in the numbers required, which could mean many families left in homes they cannot afford.

Steve Clarke, chief executive of the Welsh Tenants Federation said many were already feeling squeezed because of the increasing cost of living, and could be forced to lose their home under the proposals.

IMPACT ON FAMILIES

A controversial aspect of the reform is that separate bedrooms will only be allocated to a brother and sister over the age of 10, or same sex siblings over 16.

Fiona Dymore, from Caernarfon, said her son Gerrard, nine, and daughter Abigail, three, would have to share a bedroom under the plans.

"They'd be constantly fighting," she said.

"They can only spend about 20 minutes in each other's company before she will antagonise him, bearing in mind she's only three and a half years old.

"And she can't play the same kind of things as he does because of the age difference."

"What we estimate is that 10% of these tenants were already indebted to their landlords because they're seeking repossession orders... so it's likely that 4,000 could be made homeless as a consequence."

Enid Roberts from Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd (CCG) housing association said they have concerns about tenants' ability to pay their rent.

"But if they do fall into debt and the arrears do arise and reach a certain level we will take them to court and we will evict because it's the tenants' rent money that pays for all the work that we do on the homes and we can't survive without that money."

Amanda Oliver, head of policy at Community Housing Cymru Group, said the proposals by the UK government risked creating a "crisis".

She said the next problem tenants in that situation would face would be finding an appropriate property.

'Property is not there'

"The properties that are suitable are simply not available for people to move to, otherwise it would have already happened. Incentives are provided for tenants to move but unfortunately the property is not there."

The aim of the change by the UK government is to cut the £21bn annual housing benefits bill.

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What is fair about 100,000 families in Wales languishing on waiting lists often in cramped accommodation when other people are living in houses with empty rooms larger than their needs?”

End Quote Stephen Crabb MP Wales Office Minister

They also want to free up houses for the tens of thousands of families on waiting lists. In Wales 91,000 families are on the list.

When the matter was raised during Welsh Questions in the Commons, Wales Office Minister Stephen Crabb said: "£21bn is spent on housing benefits, and that figure will go up without the reforms we're putting in place.

"What is fair about 100,000 families in Wales languishing on waiting lists often in cramped accommodation when other people are living in houses with empty rooms larger than their needs?"

In a statement, the Department of Work and Pensions said: "From April 2013, housing benefit entitlement for working-age tenants in the social rented sector will reflect household size.

"We will expect tenants to make a contribution towards the rent if they are living in accommodation which is larger than they need in the same way that housing benefit claimants living in the private sector do now."

The Welsh government said: "We are extremely concerned about the effect the so-called 'bedroom tax' could have on tenants in Wales.

"We are currently awaiting a report on the potential consequences of the 'bedroom tax' which was commissioned by the Welsh Tenants Federation, with our support.

"The report will capture what local organisations are doing to help tenants to mitigate the effects of the changes to housing benefit in Wales and will inform further action to help tenants to cope with the substantial impacts that will result from the UK Government's changes to housing benefit."

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