HUNDREDS of Gloucestershire tenants are now in rent arrears, a year after the introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’.
But hundreds of thousands of pounds available to help struggling tenants has gone unspent, and will be returned to the Government.
The ‘bedroom tax’, or spare room subsidy reduction, saw benefit payments reduced to people in social housing with a spare room.
They face a choice of moving to a smaller property or paying the extra rent themselves. Only around 70 tenants are known to have ‘downsized’ as a result.
In Gloucester, 644 households were affected by the bedroom tax. Gloucester City Homes, one of the largest social housing providers, said it now has 200 tenants in rent arrears following its introduction. Only 15 of its tenants have moved home as a result of the change.
But Gloucester City Council has spent less than half of the money it had available to assist people in hardship.
The council has spent £111,813 of its £252,000 Discretionary Hardship Fund awarded by the Government for 2014/2015. The unspent £140,000 will go back to the Treasury.
Councillor Fred Wood, cabinet member for performance and resources at the county council, said: “In setting the procedure for DHP awards we gave careful consideration to the criteria. However, it was very difficult to predict how the draw on the fund would happen. We exercised a cautious approach to applications, as other authorities did.
“These monies have been used to support people who have been affected by both the impact of welfare reform changes and to support homelessness prevention work, such as payment of deposits or preventing eviction.
“We are currently reviewing our approach to DHP for the year 2014/15. This may result in a change of award criteria and length.”
Two Rivers Housing, which manages properties across Gloucester and the Forest of Dean, said 289 of its 3,800 tenants had been affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ and 200 are now in arrears, owing £37,000. It has helped 19 tenants to downsize.
Garry King, chief executive of Two Rivers Housing, said: “The difficulty is the limited number of smaller homes available for people to move to. This has been evident the length and breadth of the country in the last 12 months and, although we will build smaller homes in future, we are constrained by the number of these homes available for people now.
“In my view, it would have been better if benefits had been reduced or withdrawn for those people who had been offered a smaller home, but turned it down.”
In Stroud, £40,000 available to help people facing hardship has gone unspent.
Stroud District Council has made awards of £97,000 out of a DHP of £134,509.
Almost 400 Stroud District Council tenants were affected by the ‘bedroom tax’.
“This has now been reduced to 254 following proactive engagement and assistance through downsizing and joint working to identify Discretionary Housing Benefit,” said a council spokesman, adding that 33 tenants have downsized in the last year.
However, 134 tenants in the district are now in arrears due to the bedroom tax.
The district also has 575 households in social housing, 125 of which are district council tenants.