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Third of all Newcastle households hit by bedroom tax and welfare reforms

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Third of all Newcastle households hit by bedroom tax and welfare reforms

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Central Government, Communities, Finance

Thousands of Newcastle tenants urged to take part in home swap events Thousands of Newcastle tenants urged to take part in home swap events

A least one third of Newcastle's households have been hit by the Tory-led coalition's raft of welfare reforms that came in last April, an ALMO's research has revealed.

In particular, the controversial bedroom tax has had a significant impact on the city's social housing tenants.

The average weekly loss in benefits for a council tenant who is deemed to be under-occupying their home is £13.51 per household, with the annual loss in housing benefit amongst all council tenants around £3.2 million.

Your Homes Newcastle, the ALMO that runs Newcastle City Council's housing stock, says that 4,703 of its tenants have been affected by the bedroom tax.

Recent figures show that 60% of those affected by the bedroom tax in the city are now in arrears, and there has been a huge hike in the number of people seeking one-bed properties through Tyne and Wear Homes.

At the end of February there were 3,558 people looking for a one-bed home compared to 576 searching for a three-bed house, YHN's data shows.

And the advent of the tax has seen the number of empty two and three-bed flats tripling from 47 in February last year to 142 in February this year, as more and more tenants are forced out of larger properties.

Neil Scott, YHN’s director of tenancy services, said: “The government’s welfare reform act has many different strands that affect tenants in many different ways, so it has been a challenging year for both us and tenants.

“We have maintained a balanced approach that recognises the complex nature of the changes and their impact on tenants.

“In the lead up to the introduction of the bedroom tax, we carried out more than 9,000 visits to properties and engaged face to face with over 4,700 households potentially affected by the under occupation charge.

“We have put a lot of resource into training, coaching and one to one development to enable staff to deliver advice accurately and effectively given the unprecedented speed and amount of change.

“We are also committed to assisting tenants in finding employment opportunities where possible and we have been working with Newcastle City Council in providing bespoke support to the 700 tenants affected by under occupation in Walker.”

One of YHN's tenants, 46-year-old Dave Allen, has lived in his current two-bed flat for almost four years and has his seen his housing benefit slashed by 14% since the bedroom tax came in April 2013.

Mr Allen was aware of the changes before they came into place and tried to find a way of lessening the financial burden.

He said: “When I heard about the bedroom tax I went along to my housing office to ask about moving to a smaller property so that I didn’t lose any money. Unfortunately there were no smaller properties available and it was suggested I check the property lists so I could bid for them.

"I knew from other friends who’ve tried to do the same that they’re really hard to come by and, not surprisingly considering the number of other people who need them, I haven’t managed to find one yet.

“I’ve been out of work for a while now, mainly because I’ve been caring for my father, but he’s doing well at the moment so I’m managing to work as a volunteer.

"I volunteer a day each a week for Arthritis Research UK and the British Heart Foundation which I find really rewarding and I previously worked as an assistant manager in a charity shop so I’m hoping this will help me find a retail job soon – I’ve been looking, but there’s just so little work available.

“I’ve had to cut my cloth even more since April, but I didn’t have an extravagant lifestyle to start with and I’ve never been a big spender. I only go out once or twice a month and I don’t drink so it doesn’t cost much for me to have a few orange juices, but I think it’s important to have a bit of a social life to make life bearable.

“I think the bedroom tax is really unfair, I’d understand if I was a new tenant and given the option of taking a smaller flat or paying more for a larger one, but all I’ve ever been offered in the past is two bedroom properties and to very suddenly have to pay more for the same home is extremely difficult.

"I’m doing everything I can by being careful with my budgeting and trying hard to find paid employment but it really isn’t easy. I’d like the Government to consider the real impact of these changes and the effect they’re having on people like me who are struggling.”

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