Lancaster City Council has written to the Government objecting to a new ‘bedroom tax’ which some councillors have described as “cruel, self defeating and unfair”.
New welfare reforms, to be introduced in April, will cut the amount of housing benefit that working age people receive if they are deemed to have a spare bedroom in their council or housing association home.
Benefits will be cut by 14 per cent for those with one extra bedroom, and 25 per cent for those with two.
Those affected will lose an average of £14 a week, with housing association tenants expected to lose £16 a week on average.
The council said there was currently a shortage of one bedroom homes in the district, making it difficult for people to downsize.
At a recent full council meeting, councillors voted to instruct the city council’s chief executive to write to the Prime Minister and Ian Duncan Smith, secretary of state for work and pensions, opposing the measure and asking for it to be reviewed.
The motion said that it would be an unnecessary burden on families and would have devastating consequences for those affected.
Labour councillor Ian Pattison said: “It is clear that the Government is desperate to do two things with this cruel, self defeating and unfair policy of a bedroom tax.
“Firstly they want to bring down housing benefit and secondly they want to free up under-occupied social housing.
“There are, however, ways of tackling these issues without hurting the most vulnerable.”
Conservative party councillors did not support Labour’s motion, but Coun Peter Williamson, the party’s group leader for the Lancaster district, said that he sympathised with some of the points raised.
He added: “We’re paying £24bn per year in housing benefit, and what we need to know is how many bedrooms we have, and how many are occupied.
“There is certainly a case for this, because there are people who don’t have anywhere to live.”
The council said it was now looking at ways to help those affected, including recommending changing its allocation policy to allow tenants in arrears to transfer to smaller properties without having to clear any debts.
Coun Karen Leytham, cabinet member with responsibility for housing, said: “All tenants who are affected by a reduction in their housing benefit entitlement through the ‘bedroom tax’ who want to move are being encouraged to register for a transfer and to actively look for a smaller property through our lettings system.
“There is also temporary financial assistance available – Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) and tenants facing difficulties are being encouraged to apply for DHP.”
In the Lancaster district there are around 4,500 benefit claimants living in council housing and registered social landlord properties.
The council said that up to 834 cases may be affected by the new under-occupancy, or bedroom tax, rules, including 587 council tenants.
Pensioners, claimants in supported registered provider tenancies, temporary homeless accommodation, shared ownership properties, and claimants receiving help with site rent (eg. caravans) will not be affected by the changes.
At the council meeting, Scotforth West County Coun Chris Coates asked for a report to be brought back to the cabinet to look at the feasibility of changing the classification of some council properties.
He said there was discretion for housing benefit officers to decide on cases where disability means an extra room is needed and rooms can be discounted if adaptations have been made, for example if an access lift has been fitted, which means it can’t be used as a bedroom.
He added: “There are many families who want to stay in their houses as they have been there many years and have an emotional attachment, or have reasons why they need extra bedrooms occasionally, for example due to mental health issues, part-time custody of kids, adult children returning or elderly relatives who need care. These are the ones the council needs to look at re-classifying.
He added: “We need to look at all options we can to help people affected by it.”