Bedroom tax misery for Wiganers

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ALMOST half of Wiganers affected by the Bedroom Tax are now struggling to pay their rent, shocking figures reveal.

The full impact of the controversial strand of the government’s welfare reforms has been laid bare in a council report.

The situation in Wigan in relation to the impact of the bedroom tax demonstrates that arrears are higher than last year

Local authority officers have calculated more than 1,400 under occupying social housing tenants in the borough are now in rent arrears.

The under-occupancy penalty - known as the Bedroom Tax - reduces housing benefit payments to tenants who are deemed to have more bedrooms than they require.

In a report submitted to the Confident Council Scrutiny Committee this week, officers reveal 3,319 households are classified as “under-occupying” causing a financial penalty of between £517 and £1,273 per household per year.

A total of 44 per cent of those tenants are now in rent arrears with £225k now owed to Wigan and Leigh Housing “due to under occupation charge”.

The report states many of those affected may have been forced to use foodbanks. It states: “The situation in Wigan in relation to the impact of the bedroom tax demonstrates that arrears are higher than last year.

“In response to the reforms - which include bedroom tax and universal credit - local welfare support was set up in Wigan in 2013 following the end of the Department for Work and Pension’s provision of crisis loans and community care grants.

“This provides immediate relief from hardship for vulnerable people through referrals to foodbanks or to the Citizens Advice bureau for pay-point vouchers for bill payments in exceptional circumstances.”

The report concludes: “The group understands welfare reforms are inevitable and the council must support people in the borough and manage their stretched budgets while ensuring the most vulnerable people are protected.”

The Labour Party had pledged to scrap the bedroom tax if it won the election with borough MPs Lisa Nandy, Yvonne Fovargue and Andy Burnham describing it as “cruel and unfair”.

Scores of Wigan families have house-swapped in order to avoid being penalised under the scheme but the borough’s stock of one-bedroom properties are over-subscribed, leaving others vulnerable to the rate reduction.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has said that the reforms ensure that working age social tenants were only supported by the taxpayer for the number of rooms the family unit actually needed, while helping to ensure that the country could maintain a “strong welfare safety net”.