One in four households hit by the so-called “bedroom tax” has been pushed into rent arrears for the first time, the body representing housing associations said.
National Housing Federation chief executive David Orr said the figures underlined demands for the housing benefit cut to be scrapped to prevent families entering a “spiralling cycle of debt”.
Under the Government’s welfare reform, social tenants deemed to have more bedrooms than they need have had their housing benefit reduced.
Ministers say private sector renters do not get spare rooms for free, and argue the change will save around £500m annually. It has sparked protests across the country with opponents claiming it is forcing families into poverty and will increase the benefits bill by pushing people into the private sector.
The Federation found that a quarter of tenants affected by the reform in 38 housing associations it questioned went into arrears for the first time between April and June. Just over half (51 per cent) of the 63,578 tenants of 51 housing associations were unable to meet their rent payments in the first months of the new system.
United Nations special rapporteur on housing Raquel Rolnik has called for a rethink after finding the reform was causing “great stress and anxiety” to “very vulnerable” people.
Her intervention was met with fury by Tory chairman Grant Shapps, who wrote to UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon demanding an apology and an explanation for the “disgraceful” comments.
Liberal Democrat activists voted overwhelmingly at the party’s conference in Glasgow to commit the party to a review of the policy’s impact on vulnerable families .
Mr Orr – who will set out his criticisms in a speech to the Federation’s conference today – said: “This is the most damning evidence yet to show that the bedroom tax is pushing thousands of families into a spiralling cycle of debt. If these figures are replicated nationwide, over 330,000 households could already be struggling to pay their rent and facing a frightening and uncertain future. What’s more, people can’t even move to smaller homes to avoid the bedroom tax because there aren’t enough smaller properties out there.
“Housing associations are working flat-out to help their tenants cope with the changes, but they can’t magic one-bedroom houses out of thin air. People are trapped.
“What more proof do politicians need that the bedroom tax is an unfair, ill-planned disaster that is hurting our poorest families? There is no other option but to repeal.”
Sovereign Housing Association said most of its 2,360 households affected by the benefit cut fell into arrears and a third remained behind with the rent.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne said: “David Cameron’s hated ‘bedroom tax’ is pushing a generation into foodbanks and loan-sharks.”