KNUTSFORD residents living in housing trust-owned homes are bracing themselves for financial upheaval in the run-up to the introduction of the so-called ‘Bedroom Tax’.
Changes to the welfare system come into force in the spring and will see housing benefit slashed by up to 25 per cent as part of the Government’s Welfare Reform Act.
Under the reform, working-age tenants renting from a local authority, housing association or social landlord who receive housing support will lose 14 per cent of their housing benefit if they have one spare bedroom and will lose 25 per cent of benefit if they have two or more spare bedrooms.
They will have to move to a smaller property or lose their benefit.
In Knutsford, three housing trusts look after the town’s homes – Great Places, Methodist Housing Association and Cheshire Peaks and Plains.
Cheshire Peaks and Plains told the Guardian the new Act could impact as many as 700 of its 5,000 homes, and will have a ‘potentially catastrophic impact on the most vulnerable of society’, such as people who have a live-in carer through disability or families who share custody of children.
As a result Peaks and Plains has formed a specialist ‘financial inclusion team’ to provide assistance to customers who will be affected by the welfare changes.
It has also said it can offer people priority on its housing application system if they decide to move into a smaller property – but it does not have enough smaller properties for everyone.
Tim Pinder, chief executive at Cheshire Peaks and Plains, said: “The bedroom tax is one of a series of changes to the welfare system that are going to affect our customers this year.
“Many of our customers are determined to stay in their homes despite the changes, but we fear this may lead to significant financial hardship.
“For some households this could mean having to choose between feeding their families and heating their homes.
“We are doing all we can to make sure our customers have as much support as possible.”
FELLOW housing provider Great Places told the Guardian the reform would hit some of its residents hard.
Stephen Porter, chief executive at Great Places Housing Group, said: “There is no doubt that the changes to welfare reform will hit some of our residents hard. Over the past year we’ve been working with them so they are prepared for the changes, which in some cases could mean downsizing to a smaller home.
“In November we sent out an easy-to-read guide to all of the residents we believe will be affected, and have held local workshops to talk them through the changes.
“For Great Places, as well as every other housing association in the country, we believe there could be an increase in rent arrears, but we have a team in place who can provide our residents with the right money advice to help them through this difficult time.”