Carl Sargeant: Housing benefit change 'complete madness'

Houses In Wales, 70,000 families or individuals are on social housing waiting lists

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UK government changes to housing benefit are "complete madness", a Welsh government minister has told MPs.

Housing and Regeneration Minister Carl Sargeant criticised the reforms while giving evidence to the Commons Welsh Affairs Committee.

Social housing tenants with spare rooms face a cut in welfare payments unless they move to a smaller property.

But a Conservative MP said the same rules apply to tenants renting from private sector landlords.

Mr Sargeant said the under-occupancy rule - dubbed a "bedroom tax" by critics - will leave about 40,000 households in Wales £11 a week worse off on average.

'Fundamental problems'

He said he did not agree with the policy, saying "there are fundamental problems moving forward".

"There is a fiscal issue around this and I accept that the UK government is trying to achieve something by changing the way the finance operates," he said.

"But actually the moral argument of some of this process is complete madness."

Single parents who keep spare rooms so they can have access rights to their children at weekends could fall foul of the under-occupancy rule he said.

Mr Sargeant said the policy "flies in the face" of trying to keep families together.

Conservative MP Guto Bebb argued that the rules being applied to social housing tenants were already in place in the private sector.

"The moral argument - I would argue - is the same but there wasn't the same siren calls for change when the change came in for those people renting in the private sector," he said.

Mr Sargeant also told the committee - which was taking evidence at the assembly in Cardiff - that the Welsh government did not want to acquire new powers unless enough funding was also handed over.

He used the example of council tax benefit, which the devolved administration has acquired responsibility for.

But the added responsibility came with a "deficit of around £20m" which the Welsh government had to "backfill", he said.

"That can't continue. If there is a reduction in funding there has to be a consequence for public service delivery."

The UK government says it wants to bring fairness back to the housing benefit system and that it does not expect many people will have to move home as a result.

The Department of Work and Pensions says it is making the changes at a time when thousands of people in Wales are on housing waiting lists or living in overcrowded homes.

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