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'Bedroom Tax' is still hurting Staffordshire Moorlands families

By Leek Post and Times  |  Posted: February 26, 2014

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HUNDREDS of residents in the Staffordshire Moorlands are still feeling the pinch from the Government's controversial 'bedroom tax' – despite a fall in the number of people facing a cut in their housing benefits.

New figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) shows that the number of people affected by the 'spare room subsidy' in the district has fallen by more than 13 per cent.

The statistics show 372 households were facing a reduction in May last year. By November this had fallen to 322.

Overall in the West Midlands, a 9.2 per cent fall was recorded, from 54,387 to 49,364 households.

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The DWP claims tenants are taking action in a number of ways, from moving and using home swap services, to finding work or increasing earnings.

However, Thérèse Davall, project co-ordinator of Staffordshire Moorlands Advice Partnership, said that while these figures are encouraging, Citizens' Advice Bureau offices (CAB) in Leek and Cheadle have not yet seen a decrease in the amount of clients they are assisting.

Under the spare room subsidy, tenants face a reduction in their housing benefits because they are considered to be under-occupying their accommodation.

The reform means that working-age housing benefit claimants living in both the private and social rented sectors receive support based on the number of bedrooms the household is calculated to need.

Mrs Davall said: "The two CABs have been helping clients, some threatened with eviction, to apply for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP).

"A DHP is a payment made by the local council to help those who are facing hardship, make up the shortfall in their housing benefit.

"The council decides who is eligible, how much is paid and for how long."

Michelle Stonier, manager of Leek CAB, said that single adults under the age of 35 are one of the groups which has been greatly affected by this element of welfare reform.

She pointed to one client from Leek CAB who was made redundant for the first time in his life and had no option but to claim housing benefit.

She said: "Unfortunately he was only 33 years of age, which meant that he was only entitled to 'single room rate' of £47.06, leaving him with a rent shortfall of £35 per week. The client was distraught and on the verge of homelessness when he contacted his local CAB with £1,200 in rent arrears.

"The bureau successfully helped the client claim a DHP to make up the shortfall of rent. The bureau also helped the client with the debts he had accumulated and he has been able to stay in his property for now.

"This client will now need to look at how he will deal with the shortfall long-term so that he is able to make up the difference when the DHPs stop.

"If the client is unable to find work and the payments stop then he may end up in arrears and/or facing homelessness again.

"Up to 100 applications for DHP were made from the Leek bureau alone over the last 12 months.

"If anybody is still struggling to cope with the changes then we would urge them to seek help from their local bureau."

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith said: "Reforming housing benefit was absolutely necessary to ensure we can maintain a strong safety net.

"The cost to the taxpayer grew by 50 per cent in just 10 years to over £24 billion."

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