Tens of thousands of the poorest people in Britain risk being made homeless because of the bedroom tax, according to an analysis of councils’ assessments of the welfare cut.
From last month, housing benefit has been reduced to council or housing association tenants who ministers claim have more bedrooms than they need.
Data from 107 local authorities shows 86,000 households have been forced to look for one-bedroom homes, of which only 33,000 have become available in the past year.
The figures mask considerable regional variation. In Essex, 100 social housing tenants in Rochford were deemed to require a one-bedroom property because of the benefit changes but only five had become vacant the previous year. In Gloucester the council said 111 one-bed homes had been available last year, but almost 500 households needed them because of the bedroom tax.
Inverclyde in Scotland said 1,100 households would need to move into one-bedroom homes – of which just 96 had been free to rent last year.
Any tenants “under-occupying” their properties will lose 14% of housing benefit – an average of £9.25, according to the analysis – until they move into a one-bedroom home. The government’s impact assessment last summer warned that 35% of claimants affected “would be quite or very likely to fall into arrears if their housing benefit were to be reduced”.
False Economy, the trade union-backed campaign that used freedom of information requests to get the data, said it had chosen to focus on one-bed properties as ministers had been forced to acknowledge last year that there was a “shortage” of such homes but pressed on regardless with the policy.
A spokesman for False Economy said: “The disparity between the demand for one-bed housing and a whole year’s worth of supply is so severe that there is little hope of plugging the shortfall.” Without new homes being built, “tens of thousands are now facing a crisis”.
A study by the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, warned ministers that families unable to get a one-bedroom social home all moving to the private rented sector could increase benefit claims by £143m a year – despite government claims the policy will save money.
David Orr, chief executive of the federation, said: “For some the only option is to move into homes for private rent, which in many parts of the country are much higher than social rents, so the government won’t make the savings it hopes.
“The bedroom tax is an ill-thought-through and unfair policy that will cause distress for hundreds of thousands of people forced to move from homes and communities in which they have lived for years. It must be scrapped now.”
Homeless charities also called for the policy to be abandoned. Leslie Morphy, chief executive of Crisis, said: “Without enough one-bedroom homes to move into, tens of thousands are powerless to avoid the anxiety, debt and arrears caused by the bedroom tax. Our fear is that many, through no fault of their own, will in the end become homeless as a direct result of government policy. Ministers must accept these facts and rethink the bedroom tax now.”
Labour described the policy as the “worst combination of cruelty and incompetence”. Liam Byrne, the party’s spokesman on welfare, said the bedroom tax was a “mess”. “Thousands of vulnerable households are trapped by this hated tax with no option to move, and if tenants are forced to go homeless or move into the expensive private accommodation the tax payer will be left to pick up the tab.”
The government said those losing out could make up the shortfall by moving “into employment, working more hours, or taking in a lodger”. A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “Not all people affected by the changes to the spare room subsidy will need to move – it is wrong to suggest that all those impacted will have to downsize.”