Concerns over benefit reform

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A HOUSING association with more than two-hundred Wigan tenants has joined the ranks of organisations issuing stern warnings about the bedroom tax.

In a letter to two of the borough’s MPs, the Riverside association has asked Lisa Nandy and Andy Burnham to urge the Government to consider a “rigorous evaluation of the impact of the Welfare Reform Bill.”

Riverside - which provides 68 households in Wigan and 136 in Leigh - estimates the under occupation tax will mean a total reduction in housing benefit for its tenants of more than £17,000.

The move comes a week after Wigan and Leigh Housing chief Ashley Crumbley criticised the welfare reforms claiming they will “compound Wigan’s housing problem and force people into serious financial hardship.”

Riverside director, Hugh Owen, said: “We are very concerned about the impact of the benefit cuts on our tenants and the business, having campaigned against a number of aspects of the Welfare Reform Bill as it went through parliament.

“There are still changes that can be introduced to help mitigate the impact. We are asking MPs for their support, the response needs to be sufficiently broadly scoped to consider the financial impact of the policy, its impact on individuals and the wider neighbourhood impact.”

The under occupation tax will come into practice in April, tenants in social housing will have their payments reduced by 14 per cent for one or 25 per cent for two or more unoccupied bedrooms in their property.

Mr Owen added: “We are also calling for the Government to ensure guidance is such that the penalty is not imposed unfairly.

“Within the bedroom tax, there is a lack of distinction between a bedroom being occupied by one person or two people.

“This means that people in certain property types are particularly vulnerable to having benefits reduced, even when they don’t physically under-occupy their home, because of the technical definition of under-occupation. We are asking for sufficient flexibility in the guidance.”

Last week a group of charities including Carers UK, MS Society, Mencap and Macmillan Cancer Support, asked welfare secretary Iain Duncan Smith to reconsider the effects of the tax on disabled tenants.

Their argument that disabled couples would be unfairly penalised has caused Mr Duncan Smith MP to instruct his staff to “re-assess” that aspect of the reform bill. More than 550 Wigan families would be directly affected.

The Government maintains that the changes will result in a fairer allocation of social housing.

Leader of Wigan Council, Lord Peter Smith told the Evening Post that he has also put pressure on the government with regard to the benefit reforms.

He said: “I have been working with local MPs to try and influence the Government to have a re-think.

“We believe they should delay the introduction of this tax and listen to housing providers. The impact of bedroom tax will affect thousands of local people.”