NEXT April the Government’s changes to housing benefit will come into force with huge implications for many people who live in social housing across Wigan.
The most significant change is the ‘bedroom tax’ which cuts housing benefit for people who are deemed to have a spare room in their house. It applies to people who live in social housing and are of working age.
Experts estimate that around one third of people in social housing will lose an average of £14 a week when it comes into force. People who are considered to have one spare bedroom will have their benefit cut by 14 per cent. Those with two or more will lose a quarter of their benefit.
The regulations which set out what constitutes a spare room are very restrictive. Children of the same gender are expected to share a bedroom, and children under ten are expected to share a room regardless of gender.
The impact on children will be severe. If a couple are divorced only one parent will be allowed benefit to pay for a bedroom for the child. Similarly, foster children will not count for the purposes of a spare room although, after intense pressure, the Government has allocated a small amount of money that foster parents will be able to bid for.
Ministers believe the tax will force people to move out of larger properties and free up family sized housing, but campaigners have predicted the bedroom tax will cause hardship for many and homelessness for some. It is also not clear that there are enough smaller properties in many parts of the country for people to move into, which leaves them in poverty. I strongly opposed its introduction for these reasons.
In recent weeks I have been contacted by many people across Wigan who are very concerned about the bedroom tax. Some constituents, for example, will face the prospect of having to move out of the home they shared until recently with a relative who has died. Recently I also asked the Minister for an assurance that a constituent who had a terminal illness would not be forced to move out of his home, which he refused to give.
I will continue to campaign against the bedroom tax.
But in the meantime it is important that people are prepared for its introduction in April. Wigan and Leigh Housing have been proactive in talking to as many tenants as possible but if you are worried you can seek information from them by calling 01942 705040.