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21 February 2013

Plea to save 'bedroom tax' families from losing their homes

A Wales cuts watchdog is calling on the Welsh Government to protect families who could be made homeless when the new ‘bedroom tax’ kicks in.

“Many people will have to face moving to a cheaper home, if they can find one, or living with a hefty cut in benefit. Some risk falling into arrears and losing their home altogether,” warns Cuts Watch Cymru (CWC) in a report launched today.

The report calls on the Welsh Government, local authorities, and housing associations to act now to protect tenants from the impact of the new rules. It calls on ministers to take the lead to put safeguards in place against the worst effects of the changes.

Wales will be the hardest hit part of the UK when the new Social Size Criteria (‘Bedroom Tax’) come into force in April because 46% of housing benefit claimants will be affected.

The new rules say social housing tenants must only occupy houses and flats that exactly match the size of the family. If there is a ‘spare’ bedroom, they must move to a smaller place or face an average £12 a week cut in their housing benefit.

“At least 40,000 claimants in Wales will be affected - the average yearly loss for tenants of working age in Wales with spare bedrooms is likely to be £600,” warns the report.

CWC chair Victoria Winckler said: “It’s all very well telling people to move, but there is a real shortage of rented accommodation in Wales. Even if they can find somewhere, the claimants will have to bear the cost of moving and people with disabilities will lose any adaptations that have been done to their homes.

“Those who stay and bear the extra cost are likely to get into rent arrears and may well lose their tenancies and become homeless.”

CWC fear that loss of spare bedrooms will mean young people who have just left home will have nowhere to fall back on if they lose their jobs or split up from partners – creating more homelessness.

The group is also “very concerned’ about changes to single occupancy rules for the under 35s and the end of automatic rent payments to landlords when Universal Credit comes in later this year.

It claims any savings made by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) will be wiped out by the cost to housing associations of relets and the tab paid by councils for emergency housing for homeless families.

CWC want:

All social landlords to find out which of their tenants will be affected, then make sure that all them know about what is going to happen.
Housing providers should change the range of properties they offer, with many more smaller homes and places for single people, to ease the effect of the changes.
Local authorities to make full and proactive use of Discretionary Housing Payments to top up cuts to housing benefit.
Welsh Government to explore innovative ways of bringing unwanted property into use, and increase the supply of affordable housing.
“These changes represent a major threat to the wellbeing of tens of thousands of men, women and children in Wales. Unless the government takes urgent action, these people will at the least be dragged further into debt and poverty, or at worst, lose their homes,” said Dr Winckler.

Cuts Watch Cymru is a federation of over 30 organisations including the Bevan Foundation, Oxfam Cymru, Unison, Citizens Advice, Shelter Cymru, Leonard Cheshire Disability, Chwarae Teg, Age Cymru, Welsh Women’s Aid, Gwalia, Tpas Cymru, Tai Pawb, Disability Wales, WCVA, Save the Children, Community Housing Cymru, The Trussell Trust and The Chartered Institute of Housing.