A housing organisation in Northumberland has reported an 86% rise in rent arrears since the introduction of the bedroom tax.
Homes for Northumberland (HfN), which manages over 8,500 homes in Blyth Valley and Alnwick District, has reported the massive increase in tenants falling behind with their rent since the introduction of the “under-occupancy penalty” in April.
The revelation comes as figures show more than 5,200 homes in Northumberland are classed as underoccupied, with more than 4,000 in the south east of the county alone.
Tenants affected by the new charge in the county are having to pay on average £13 more per week, £600 a year.
An HfN figure has warned that the body could be forced to evict tenants because they can not afford to pay their rent due to the tax.
The new rules reduce by up to 25% the amount of housing benefit paid to less well off council and housing association tenants deemed to have one or more spare bedrooms.
Under the regulations, one bedroom is permitted for each adult or couple living as part of the household, but two children of the same gender aged under 16 are expected to share a room and two children aged under 10 are expected to share regardless of gender.
Housing benefit entitlement is reduced by 14% if a tenant is deemed to have one spare bedroom and by 25% for two or more spare bedrooms.
The figures, from the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, show 5,222 households are regarded as under-occupied in Northumberland under the welfare reforms. Of these, around 1,200 are HfN tenants.
HfN has, as a result, experienced the 86% rise in rent arrears.
Coun Allan Hepple, Northumberland County Council’s policy board member for planning, housing and regeneration, also sits on the board of HfN, requested a report on the issue at its meeting last night.
He said: “I am in no doubt that the huge increase in low level rent arrears is directly related to the bedroom tax, and will be replicated across the county.
“We could be facing an extra £200,000 in rent arrears by the end of the financial year as tenants on low incomes fail to find the money to pay this.
“I am very concerned about the impact on our tenants and have asked for a report looking into exactly how we deal with the huge problems the tax is causing. We could be left in a situation where we are expected to evict tenants who have ended up in arrears solely as a result of this new tax.”
Figures from the county council show there are nearly 10,000 people on the housing register awaiting properties and only around 40 single bedroom properties currently available, meaning thousands of tenants now deemed to be in homes too big for their needs have nowhere else to go.
The HfN revelations come as the public service union Unison’s Northumberland County Branch prepares for a public meeting later this week about the bedroom tax.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery will lead the speakers at the rally at Ashington Football Club at 7.30pm on Thursday, which will highlight the impact of the benefit cut on over 5,000 families across the county.