Families’ bedroom tax woe

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WIGAN’S social housing chief has laid bare the devastating impact the bedroom tax is having on residents in the borough.

Wigan and Leigh Housing (WALH) boss Ashley Crumbley predicted Wigan would be one of the worst affected areas in the country on the eve of the under-occupation tax measures coming in to force.

And months on, Mr Crumbley (pictured) admits his “serious concerns” remain about its effects and explained his officials were facing up to having to claim £2.9m in rent from 4,000 of the borough’s poorest families as part of the new system.

WALH chief executive Mr Crumbley said: “Earlier this year was the first time I have spoken out about government policy before but this is just terrible for the people who live in our properties.

“I’ve always taken the view, a pragmatic view, that we do need reform of the welfare system and I see very real benefits in the Universal Credit model, it’s logical bringing together a number of benefits into one monthly payment.

“But it’s introduction was phased, and is being brought in gradually. The bedroom tax just hit, 1st of April, there, deal with it.

“I would certainly stand by what I said before, I have not seen anything in these three months to change my mind.”

The under-occupation tax - which reduces a residents’ benefits by 14 per cent for one unoccupied bedroom in a property and 25 per cent for two - currently affects around 4,000 of the most deprived families in the borough.

Mr Crumbley said: “It creates real problems around rent arrears. We have the £2.9m we have to collect, our normal collection rate is 98 per cent but that cohort affected by the bedroom tax are at 86%. The figures belie a serious problem that they are really struggling to make their payments.

“These families are desperate, going without breakfast before kids going to school, we would expect that 86 per cent to keep tipping as things get even harder.”

The clamour for families to down size their properties to avoid being hit by the tax has caused a unique problem in Wigan borough.

WALH manager Steve Martlew said: “We have to collect this £2.9m off families who have nothing. It will end up with the perverse situation where we will a number of empty properties on our estates that we cannot use and we will have thousands on our waiting list waiting for fewer bedroomed properties.”

Mr Crumbley added: “From what we’ve been told, there are no changes from the government. We are going to have to deal with it. But it’s so serious for UK housing we’ve got to go back and tell them that we have serious concerns.

“We’ve never seen so many keys handed in. And these people will be go into the private rent sector - which on average will cost them £700 more per annum, which cuts into the savings that DWP predicted the new system would bring.

“DWP expected a flow of private renters into social housing stock but we’ve not seen that. It’s the other way.

“And I’ve got a surplus of three beds but it’s the complete opposite for one and two bed properties, we have a demand four times the amount of supply.”

“All this is doing is aggravating that supply and demand. If I can’t ill those three beds it’s another loss of income from the rents they would normally bring in.

We do get it, welfare reforms are needed. And that;s why we’re working hard with the council on Universal Credit and we’ll work hard to make this work.

“But bedroom tax is causing an absolute nightmare, taking up a lot of time and resources.”