Wakefield and District Housing says Bedroom Tax has left thousands of people with rising debts

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The introduction of the Bedroom Tax has left thousands of people living in social housing struggling to cope with rising debts, according to a new report.

Wakefield and District Housing (WDH), claims the government’s controversial welfare reform has left more of its 60,000 tenants with rent arrears, in financial hardship and facing eviction.

Its first major report, called Life on the Edge?, examines the 200 days since the spare room subsidy was introduced in April. The reform means those with a spare bedroom in their council or housing association home have had benefits cut.

The report says the introduction affected 5,600 residents in Wakefield, including 32 per cent of properties on the Smirthwaite estate, in Normanton, and 20 per cent in Lupset.

WDH chief executive Kevin Dodd said it means many people are losing £15 a week, forcing them to choose between “heating or eating”.

He said: “The so-called Bedroom Tax is unfair, unjust and unworkable, and our findings over the first 200 days demonstrate the amount of unnecessary upheaval and distress caused to people within our communities.

“The only reason the situation is not worse is because of the intensive support our employees have provided to our tenants. Many social landlords may find it difficult to provide such long term support.

“The impact of welfare reform raises real questions about the role of social landlords in the future. The government expects us to go beyond rent and repairs by improving tenants’ overall quality of life, yet threaten the income we have to do this.“

The report suggests that 4,722 households are still affected, with 3,955 of those under-occupying by one bedroom.

It claims around half of those are in a worse financial position than they were before Bedroom Tax was introduced and 552 tenants who did not have a debt now owe rent.

WDH has seen a “huge swell in demand” for support ranging from Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) to food parcels.

The report also includes case studies of tenants, including a 52-year-old Wakefield mum-of-two called Jane. After previously having no history of debt she tallied up rent arrears of £1,400.

She was helped by WDH’s Central Debt Team to secure DHP to cover the difference in her loss of benefits and pay off both her arrears and debts.

There has also been an increase of 1,277 people looking for a new property through WDH’s Homesearch scheme.