HUNDREDS of people are vying for every onebedroom flat that comes up for grabs in the Staffordshire Moorlands ahead of the introduction of the controversial “bedroom tax”.
From April, tenants living in social housing who are receiving housing benefits will see a reduction in the amount paid to them if they have any spare bedrooms.
This has led to soaring demand for one-bedroom homes, with more than 200 people applying for each that becomes available.
News of the fight for smaller homes came as Staffordshire Moorlands District Council gave the go-ahead last week to demolish 18 garages in Spencer Avenue, Leek, and redevelop the site with four single-bedroom apartments.
The planning application was submitted by Ascent Housing, a joint venture between Staffordshire Moorlands District Council and Your Housing, formally Moorlands Housing.
Speaking at last week’s meeting of the council’s planning applications committee, agent for the applicants Nick Grubb said: “When one-bedroom apartments are available more than 200 people are interested.
“The Welfare Reform changes starting in April are creating more demand for one-bedroom units.
“Couples and single people are now applying for one-bedroom homes across the district.” The council’s housing officer Ian Young also told the committee that there was now a greater demand from couples seeking one-bedroom apartments.
He said: “There are 207 people over 55 and 379 under 55 seeking one-bedroom homes in Leek.
“There are also 35 people under 55, and 200 over 55, seeking a one-bedroom property anywhere in the Staffordshire Moorlands.”
However, some councillors on the planning committee spoke out against one-bedroom apartments.
Councillor Mahfooz Ahmad said: “I am not fond of one-bedroom flats, which were a trend in the 60s, but the housing benefits are causing the changes. People may need extra accommodation if someone needs to stay at the home, if someone is ill. This policy should be looked at.”
Under the new rules, tenants will lose 14 per cent of their housing benefit if they have one spare bedroom, and 25 per cent if they have two.
However, Staffordshire Moorlands MP Karen Bradley said: “This is a reduction in benefits, not a bedroom tax.
“Taxpayers are funding spare rooms in the social housing sector. They do not fund them in the private sector.”
“This just affects people of working age who have a spare room. It does not affect pensioners, people with a disability or members of the armed forces.
“No-one will be evicted, as residents will just have their housing benefits reduced if they have spare rooms.
“If people want to move to a smaller property, the house would become available for others. A survey has shown there are many people living in overcrowded accommodation.”
Former Labour MP Charlotte Atkins said she hoped that a future Labour government would reverse the ‘bedroom tax’ policy.
She said: “People are incredibly frightened by the cuts in housing benefits at a time they are struggling to pay heating bills. People no longer have a home for life as their circumstances are now constantly under review.
“This is sending out all the wrong message. What about when a couple are ill and have to sleep in separate rooms? Also, what happens when children come home to see their parents at such times as Christmas or Mothers’ Day? Do they have to sleep on the floor? This is not helping to get families together.
“The Government is cracking down on people with low income at a time they are handing out tax incentives to the rich. This cannot be justified.”
The Unite union has organised protests across the country against the welfare changes.
Len McCluskey of Unite said: “If this pernicious move is allowed to happen, it will have a terrible impact of forcing kids out of schools and causing people to lose their jobs.
“The Government has got this very, very wrong. This is no way to go about solving the housing crisis.
“Unite has warned that the bedroom tax will cause social upheaval as communities are cleared of people who cannot afford to pay for their bedrooms.”