Rent arrears have soared across the Stockton Borough as a direct result of the Government’s Bedroom Tax policy with many families finding themselves in arrears for the first time in their lives – a message Alex Cunningham, Stockton North’s Labour MP, took to the floor of the House of Commons.
Since its introduction some 15 months ago, the Bedroom Tax has removed support from 660,000 people – many of whom are disabled. And research has revealed that just 6% of those affected have been successfully re-housed, while figures from the National Housing Federation show that two-thirds of households hit cannot find the money to pay the rent.
Across the Stockton Borough, arrears for Tristar tenants have increased by 25%, to nearly £1.2 million, on the year prior to the introduction of the Bedroom Tax. However, without the active intervention of Tristar Homes and Stockton Borough Council to provide allocations of additional support for struggling tenants, arrears would have increased by 60% to almost £1.5 million.
During questions to the Department for Communities and Local Government, Alex asked: “Several hundred people [across Stockton North], many of them disabled, are in arrears for the first time in their lives, causing unseen misery and even shame. Was it really the Secretary of State’s intention to grind such people into the ground?”
The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, however, in suggesting that Stockton Borough Council has access to Discretionary Housing Payments to “help [tenants] through the process”, failed to account for the dramatic shortage of smaller properties which is leaving many families with no alternative but to stay put and face an average of £720 extra per year for their “spare” bedrooms.
Alex said: “We’ve pointed out time and again, the Bedroom Tax is failing to meet its own targets. Rather than reducing the welfare bill, it has actually locked in extra costs, forcing tenants into arrears.
“Yet the Coalition appears to be blind to this outcome. It is a sad truth that higher arrears will inevitably mean more evictions. And because local authorities and housing associations pick up the bill, less capital is available for the crucial building projects needed to increase the supply of affordable houses.
“It is this vicious cycle that is resulting in fewer tenants being able to move and more people falling into arrears. In short, the Bedroom Tax compounds the very problem it was designed to solve and it is high time that the Tory-led Coalition accepted these failings and brought an end to this shameful policy.
”The Minister missed the point entirely – he spoke of the Council’s discretionary fund but failed to recognise that arrears would be much higher again if the Council and Tristar Homes hadn’t taken action to help many of their tenants.”