YVONNE FOVARGUE MP - Move or pay price of the Bedroom Tax

I SPOKE in a parliamentary debate on the bedroom tax, or under-occupation penalty, which is blatantly unfair to social housing tenants.

Many of them have lived in their properties for a considerable time and regard them not as housing stock assets but as their homes: Homes with memories, in which they have built their lives surrounded by families and friends.

Leaving that aside - if it can be left aside - this blanket policy shows absolutely no understanding of the mix of housing in Wigan.

I arranged a meeting between the Minister and members of Wigan and Leigh Housing to meet to explain the current predicament.

Wigan has an over-supply of three-bedroom properties, which constitute about 50 per cent of our social housing stock, and not enough one and two-bedroom properties.

More than 4,300 of our 22,500 tenants will be affected by the policy and they will have no real choice.

They must pay the penalty, or move to private rented properties that will cost more.

It has been estimated that if only a quarter of them want to move, it will take 10 years to re-house them at the current rate. In the meantime, how are they to pay the penalty?

The tax will force residents who cannot move to lose up to 25 per cent of their current support.

It should not be forgotten that housing benefit is an in-work benefit which is paid to hard-working people on low incomes, or to pensioners who have worked all their lives with little or no occupational pension.

In the current climate it is already difficult to balance the family budget, and another measure may well add to that problem: the payment of housing benefit to the tenant rather than directly to the landlord.

Tenant representatives are very concerned that payment arrears will result if this scheme is introduced without proper financial guidance and support on money management.

Alongside the introduction of Universal Credit these changes are individually harmful, but they are cumulatively disastrous, and they show no understanding of Wigan and its people, or their problems.

Instead, they will hit individuals who are trying to do the right thing.

Debt levels will increase, and the payday lenders are already circling the estates, to prey on people being forced by the Government to pay to have a family life in their own community.