Bedroom tax ‘will tear rural societies apart’

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The Government’s controversial ‘bedroom tax’ is having a disproportionate effect on people living in remote areas and will ‘tear apart’ long-standing rural communities across England, a damning report has warned.

The desperate shortage of affordable housing in villages and hamlets throughout Yorkshire and rural England means low-paid workers and families will be forced to uproot from their communities and move many miles to find what the Government now deems to be appropriate-sized homes, according to Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE).

Housing experts, charity bosses and senior backbench MPs in Yorkshire all backed the report, and called on the Government to offer an exemption for people living rural areas from the controversial withdrawal of what Ministers term the “spare room subsidy”.

“The ‘bedroom tax’ takes no account of the challenges rural tenants face,” said ACRE chief executive Janice Banks. “It is yet another example of the ‘rural penalty’ paid by countryside communities.”

The so-called tax – in fact a cut in housing benefit – has proved to be the most controversial of all the Government’s welfare reforms to date. Introduced in April, it means families deemed to be living in over-sized social housing – those with at least one spare bedroom – are now receiving reduced housing benefit, in line with the size of the property the Government believes they are actually entitled to.

Each family therefore faces the choice of either moving to a smaller home, or trying to make up the difference – typically more than £50-a-month – themselves.

The Government insists the changes are a reasonable response to the need to cut Britain’s spiralling welfare bill.

But ACRE, an umbrella body for England’s 38 rural community councils, said the policy makes no sense in rural areas, where villages cannot offer a wide range of alternative social housing for down-sizing families to move into.

Ms Banks said: “The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) forecast this policy could have a greater impact on rural areas because there are fewer appropriate size homes available.

“Yet it went ahead with a blanket approach which will inevitably force rural tenants out of villages where they have lived for years, taking them away from their extended families, schools and support networks. It will take key workers away from areas where they perform vital roles.”

Judy Robinson, the chief executive of the region’s voluntary sector support organisation, Involve Yorkshire and Humber, said the cut is already having a significant effect on people’s lives.

“Involve knows from its work with charities that poverty and welfare changes, especially the bedroom tax, are having a huge negative impact on people in rural areas all over the region,” she said.

The shortage of affordable housing is a critical issue across Britain, but is most severe in rural areas.

“There simply aren’t enough homes for people to down-size into,” said Rob Warm, the National Housing Federation’s lead manager for Yorkshire. “This is one of the key flaws in this policy.

“Your choice is moving into a house which does not exist, or having your benefits cut. That, to me, is fundamentally unfair.”

But the DWP said it has made £5m available to the most rural areas of the country, as part of a £190m fund for councils to help those claimants whom they believe to be special cases.

Ryedale, Craven and Richmondshire councils have received more than £375,000 between them.

“It is simply not affordable to pay housing benefit for people to have spare rooms,” a DWP spokeswoman said. “Families receive help for the number of bedrooms they need – exactly the same rules as in the private sector.”