Reform plans spark debate

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WELFARE reforms set to hit Wiganers next year were the topic of fierce debate at the latest meeting of the full Council.

The controversial under occupation tax, known as bedroom tax, was subject of much criticism from Labour members although one independent representative claimed to have come up with a solution.

Hindley Green Coun Bob Brierley told the chamber that social housing residents should change their spare bedrooms into dining rooms to avoid the benefit cut.

He said: “I’m fed up of listening to each party shift the blame. It’s like ping-pong; ‘it’s Labour’s fault, no it’s the Tories’ fault.’

“I have a simple solution to help people – it’s not a dining room tax, is it? Turn your bedroom into a dining room. I have done that with one of my rooms in my house.

“No-one is coming up with any advice to help, let’s find a solution for these people, not argue among yourselves.”

The bedroom tax will result in a cut in benefits for those living in social housing with more bedrooms than they require at a rate of 14 per cent for one extra bedroom and 25 per cent for two. Those affected are estimated to lose an average of £14 per household.

Since the meeting, Wigan Council has moved to explain that changing a room’s purpose will not exempt residents’ from the cuts.

Coun Ged Bretherton, said: “The number of bedrooms is defined in terms of rooms other than the kitchen, living room and toilet facilities. Each dwelling is let using a legal document, a Tenancy Agreement, which sets out the address and sets out the number of bedrooms in the property.

“These records are available to housing benefit and national fraud investigators. So a tenant claiming to have fewer bedrooms than actually exist could be committing fraud which would quickly be detected. The public need to be clear that it is just not possible to legally redefine room use in this way.”

Labour Coun for Ashton, Nigel Ash, raised a motion at the meeting calling for the council’s Chief Executive to write to parliament about the impact of the reforms in the borough.

He said: “These measures show what little understanding this Tory led government has of how people live in northern towns like Wigan. On the very same day next April that millionaires will see their taxes cut, thousands of residents on low incomes will find themselves much worse off.

“Those who are already struggling with the higher cost of living will be paying full council tax for the first time.”