Bedroom tax tenants threat

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AN increase in the number of tenants kicked out of their homes could be the result of benefit reforms, Wigan social housing bosses have revealed.

In a report presented to a council committee this week, Wigan and Leigh Housing (WALH) has mapped out the challenges facing the organisation in the future.

It explains that the “greatest risks” to collecting housing revenue come from “the introduction of the bedroom tax and direct payments to tenants.”

The report said: “Wigan and Leigh Housing has seen a significant upturn in the number of tenancy terminations resulting in a higher number of empty properties compared to low levels of recent years.

“While there is no direct correlation between the increase in terminations and the impacts of welfare reform, anecdotal evidence suggests it is a key factor.”

The under occupation tax – dubbed the bedroom tax – reduces claimants’ benefit if they are deemed to have extra rooms.

Wigan borough has a higher rate of residents affected compared to other areas.

As a result, the demand for houses with multiple bedrooms has dropped significantly with demand for one bedroom properties far outweighing supply.

The report adds: “A further area of concern is that the bedroom tax is accentuating the mismatch in the demand for council housing.

“At the end of 2013/14 the proportion of empty homes of the overall stock was 1.17 per cent against a target of 0.9 per cent. For the previous two years the proportion of empty homes was 0.94 per cent and 0.72 per cent respectively.”

In a review of the past year’s performance, WALH bosses will tell the council’s cabinet that customer satisfaction remains high among tenants and rent collection was at 98.03 per cent, surpassing their 96 per cent target in what has been a “challenging operating environment.”

As part of the welfare changes introduced in the last two years, some benefits payments are grouped into one monthly payment as Universal Credit, meaning residents no longer have their rent deducted at source.

WALH plans for the future stated in the report include “changing the rent payment period to a 52 weeks a year to align with Universal Credit payments, transferring tenants to smaller properties where possible and promoting mutual exchanges between tenants.”