ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England), the national body of the Community Council of Staffordshire, is repeating its call for the Government to scrap the charge in settlements of fewer than 3,000 people as a minimum.
The charity spoke out in the wake of a report by Ipsos MORI and the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research, which presents early findings from the evaluation of the removal of the spare room subsidy.
The under-occupation charge or ‘bedroom tax’, which cuts the benefits of tenants of working age in homes deemed to have spare rooms, came into force in April last year.
ACRE, the national voice for England’s network of rural community councils, warned at the time that the penalty would force people to leave the villages where they grew up.
The charity maintains that a shortage of one and two-bedroom homes in the countryside means rural tenants have no choice but to move into towns and cities or fall into debt if they cannot make up the rent shortfall. The report said that 47pc of landlords said they had seen an increase in rent arrears since the introduction of the charge.
ACRE chief executive Janice Banks said: “This new report on the ‘bedroom tax’ backs up our fears. It says that, following the introduction of the charge, agencies reported that a lot of people wanted to downsize to smaller properties but could not.
“Supply of one-bedroom homes is in short supply in any case, but this problem is worse in rural areas where so few affordable homes of any size are built.”
The report, commissioned by the Department for Work & Pensions, said that many claimants were strongly attached to their local areas for a variety of reasons, such as work, schools and local services, plus a support network of family and friends living very close by. In some close-knit rural areas, the majority of claimants interviewed could not imagine moving out of the area.
Chris Welch, Chief Executive of Staffordshire Community Council said: “These findings were inevitable. The ‘bedroom tax’ takes no account of the challenges rural tenants face. Those who stayed put and tried to make up the shortfall were already at a disadvantage. Research shows it costs £2,800 a year more to live in the countryside than it does in a city and this tax has impacted on those already struggling with the high cost of living in rural areas.
“The under-occupation charge is not a sustainable policy. We are backing ACRE’s call to the Government to exclude settlements of fewer than 3,000 people as a minimum from this unfair tax on some of the most vulnerable people in rural communities.”