June 20 2013 Latest news:
Friday, March 22, 2013
NO empty one or two bedroom council homes are currently available in Uttlesford – even though 270 households may be forced to downsize from next month.
ONE person affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ is 60-year-old Martin Eyers from Saffron Walden.
The resident from Loompits Way told the Reporter he had been left in a “Catch-22 situation” ahead of next month’s changes because of the difficulty in downsizing from his two-bedroom property.
He has lived there for three years, originally with his 20-year-old son, but now has an empty room because his son moved out last December after finding a home nearer to his place of study at Colchester Institute.
“I’m quite happy to give up my two bedroom house for a one bedroom flat but trying to find one with a housing association is like trying to win the lottery,” Mr Eyers said.
“The council hasn’t got anywhere either – there just isn’t enough one bedroom properties to cater for the impact this bedroom tax will have.”
Mr Eyers has been out of work for two years and the housing benefit changes mean he will now have to find an extra £14 a week to pay for his rent.
Another barrier preventing him from moving is that he is currently in rent arrears. His housing association previously turned down an application because he owed £50 – a figure Mr Eyers said will be “much worse” by the end of the month.
The dilemma he faces is exactly the kind of case Uttlesford Citizens Advice Bureau is worried may be seen more and more as a result of the bedroom tax.
Mr Eyers said the charity’s support had been invaluable, adding: “I would like to thank the CAB because without their help myself and others would be in a lot more trouble financially than we are. I think they are tremendous.”
Controversial Government plans – labelled a “bedroom tax” by critics – mean some residents will be hit by annual benefit cuts of up to £1,560 after April 1 if they remain in their current home.
The move will affect people who receive housing benefit and have one or more spare rooms.
Uttlesford District Council (UDC) told the Reporter there were currently 212 households with one under-occupied bedroom, and 58 with two empty bedrooms.
On average, claimants will lose £16 a week from their housing benefit if they have one spare room or more. The maximum reduction is £30.
The district council’s cabinet member for housing Cllr Julie Redfern described the shake-up by Westminster as “frustrating” and admitted there was a shortage of one and two bedroom council houses in the district.
But she said the council was doing all it could to address the problem and had been negotiating with developers to include smaller affordable properties as part of planning applications for market housing.
“The reality is all of us can only rent or buy a property we can afford to live in and that might mean we don’t have as many bedrooms as we would like,” Cllr Redfern explained.
“That is what happens in the private sector and it applies to council tenants too.”
She added: “The number of vacant properties we have available to advertise varies from week to week – two weeks ago there were eight one-bedroom and two two-bedroom flats available but this week there are only two three-bed houses vacant.”
But despite the concerns, Uttlesford Citizens Advice Bureau has praised the district council for its proactive approach.
Everyone affected by the change has been written to and, according to Cllr Redfern, most are prepared to make up for the shortfall rather than downsize.
But others are likely to be caught out.
Social policy manager at the CAB, Kellie Dorrington, also warned that despite assurances from tenants about being able to handle cuts to their housing benefit, many may spiral into financial difficulty.
“Tenants may say they can cope now but a few months down the line they could end up getting into rent arrears and ultimately reach the point where they are evicted from their property,” she said.
“Even if they did wish to downsize at a later date, it might not be a possibility because of the lack of one and two bedroom council houses available in Uttlesford.”