1:46pm Tuesday 5th February 2013
By Bill Gardner
Charities and city leaders claim upcoming government reforms will drive the poorest families in Brighton and Hove “over the edge”. The reforms, dubbed the “bedroom tax”, will force social tenants to move out or face slashed benefits if they have a spare room. Bill Gardner assesses the potential impact of the bedroom tax bombshell.
Disabled people are being driven to the brink of suicide by the upcoming bedroom tax, it has been claimed.
From April, hundreds of social housing tenants across Brighton and Hove deemed to have a spare bedroom will be forced to move out or face a cut in benefits.
Those affected will lose an average of £14 a week with housing association tenants expected to lose £16 a week.
Brighton and Hove City Council has already written to nearly 1,600 households warning them they are likely to lose out.
One Conservative MP said the changes would ensure houses were not under-occupied and would help cut the bloated welfare bill.
But furious campaigners claimed vulnerable disabled people would be hit hardest.
A spokeswoman for the Fed Centre, a Brighton-based disabled charity, said the reforms were “deeply concerning”.
She said: “We have had people contact us who are frightened of losing their homes. For some people it is so stressful that it is affecting their health - and some have reported feeling suicidal.
“It has been estimated that two thirds of tenants affected will be disabled people, many of whom are very vulnerable.”
The Argus spoke to one woman who has lived in her three bedroom house with her daughter and husband for 20 years.
Both the mother and her daughter are disabled, with the father needing to sleep in a separate room.
Now they have been told they have to make a contribution to their rent which they cannot afford, or they will have to leave their home.
Chris Kift, from the Brighton and Hove Tenant Disability Network, described the bedroom tax as “utterly ridiculous”.
He said: “A spare room is an essential part of life for many disabled people.
“The fact is you do sometimes need a carer to stay over even if they are not there permanently.
“Disabled people are being targeted and it’s not fair. They’re attacking the people who can’t fight back.”
The reforms are aimed at forcing social tenants to downsize if they have bedrooms deemed ‘spare’.
However, Brighton and Hove has a huge housing waiting list, with many people waiting years to access a one-bedroom flat.
Andy Winter, chief executive of the Brighton Housing Trust, the largest housing charity in the city, said the bedroom tax could push hard-pressed families “over the edge”.
He said: “I really don’t think this has been thought through.
“People are already on a financial precipice and there are a number of households which will be pushed into a crisis situation.
“There are a lot of families that will be affected by this and it’s possible that there could be evictions.”
Jason Kitcat, the Green leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, said the reforms were “poorly conceived and deeply unfair”.
He said the council had already set aside more than £300,000 in the budget to support those who fell foul of the rule change.
He said: “It’s certainly going to create a lot of harm and difficulty for people.
“The money that’s going to be needed to be spent supporting people will nullify whatever’s raised by the Government, so it simply doesn’t make sense.”
Other politicians agreed the bedroom tax could cause huge damage to the city.
Gill Mitchell, leader of the Labour group on Brighton and Hove City Council, said the rule change could “tear communities apart”.
She said: “People are going to be faced with a stark choice between finding more money or moving.
“I represent a ward that is going to be hit hard by this. It’s going to cause a huge amount of damage to people’s lives.
“For instance, I’ve spoken to a man who has his kids to stay once a week after his divorce settlement.
“But when this rule kicks in, he will no longer be able to do that. He will have to move out. It’s deeply unfair.”
But the bedroom tax is supported by Brighton and Hove’s two Conservative MPs – Kemptown MP Simon Kirby and Hove MP Mike Weatherley.
Mr Weatherly said the bedroom tax was “fair and completely reasonable”.
He said: “The welfare bill has simply got to be cut and this is one way to do that.
“I don’t see why a hard-working family should be paying more for another person to live in a house that is too big for them.
“I sympathise with anyone who will need to move their kids from one school to another. But the taxpayer can’t foot the bill for whatever people want to do – and there are a number of exemptions.
“Welfare is there to stop people being hungry and to keep a roof over their heads, not to allow them to do whatever they like.”
How it works
Welfare reforms will cut the amount of benefit that people can get if they are deemed to have a spare bedroom in their council or housing association home.
The new rules will apply from April to tenants of working age.
The size criteria in the social rented sector will restrict housing benefit to allow for one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household, with the following exceptions:
All claimants who are deemed to have at least one spare bedroom will be affected.
The cut will be set at 14% housing benefit for one extra bedroom and 25% for two or more extra bedrooms.
‘There are people that have been on a waiting list to downsize for years but they can’t because there’s nothing available’
Many disabled people claim the bedroom tax would force them to move out of their homes.
Stewart Gover’s wife is a chronic asthmatic, meaning the couple have to sleep in separate rooms due to her constant coughing.
But from April, Mr Gover, pictured above, from Brighton will lose more than £700 a year due to the bedroom tax.
He said: “I don’t think there’s any justification for it. It’s not just us - there will be thousands of people affected.
“It just seems like no one has bothered to think this through.”
Mr Gover, a former tenant rep who is registered disabled himself, said it would be difficult to find a one-bedroom council flat in Brighton.
He said: “There are people that have been on a waiting list to downsize for years but they can’t because there’s nothing available.
“And the one bedroom stock is the worst in the city. It’s just unbelievably unfair.”
‘I’d like to see the Prime Minister try to bring up a family of four on £80 a week’
Muriel Briault, pictured, a tenant rep for Mile Oak in Portslade, said hundreds of families would suffer due to the bedroom tax.
She said: “People around here are already living on the breadline. I just don’t know how they are going to survive.
“I think many people have a right to a spare room so they can have family and friends to stay. It’s appalling.
“I’d like to see David Cameron try to bring up a family of four on £80 a week.”
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