Bed tax victory ‘won’t help us’

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A LANDMARK legal ruling which struck a blow against the Government’s controversial welfare shake-up may not help Wiganers.

Borough tenants struggling to cope with benefit cuts under the so-called bedroom tax were heartened by a Scottish tribunal which ruled a disabled man was being penalised for a tiny room which could not legally be classed as a bedroom. The barrister ruling on bedroom tax cases said any room between 70 and 90ft sq was only suitable as a bedroom for an under-10.

However, the Citizens’ Advice Bureau is warning the ruling may not lead to an avalanche of repayments for hard-pressed Wiganers as it is unlikely that the borough’s social housing contains irregular-sized rooms.

District manager Christopher Harris said: “I don’t think the ruling is going to have an awful lot of relevance in Wigan because the majority of houses in the social sector are going to have fairly standard layouts.

“The builders will have had to take this legislation into account when applying for planning permission. This ruling refers mainly to post-war houses which have a standard box room, but I don’t think there would be many council houses designed on that basis.

“I very much doubt there will be any bedrooms in Wigan Council houses which are less than 70 square feet. That is very small, and a room of less than 50ft sq, which the law says cannot be a bedroom, is almost completely unusable.”

Mr Harris said the tribunal disappointment is the latest blow for struggling families in Wigan who have seen their housing benefit drop by 14 per cent if they have one spare room and 25 per cent if they have two.

The CAB says the biggest problem facing tenants hit in the pocket by the ruling is the severe lack of alternative accommodation into which they can realistically downsize.

Mr Harris said: “It’s a very worrying situation. We have been looking into the private rented sector but there just isn’t the accommodation and people looking to move out to something smaller have very few options.

“We have been going through people’s income to maximise their money and check expenditure, and have been looking at things like helping them switch to cheaper gas and electricity suppliers. However, a lot of people on benefits simply can’t afford that reduction. If you are on Jobseeker’s Allowance and they are taking it off there’s virtually nothing left to live on.”

The CAB has set up a sharing service to help single people aged under 35, whose housing benefits do not cover finding accommodation on their own, locate house or flatmates in order to rent somewhere to live.