‘Bedroom tax’ has sent 400 Norwich people into rent arrears, claim council leaders

Bert Bremner, cabinet member for housing at Norwich City Council.

Bert Bremner, cabinet member for housing at Norwich City Council.

More than 400 people in Norwich have fallen into rent arrears since the introduction of the so-called 'bedroom tax', city council leaders say.

The controversial changes to cut housing benefit payments, dubbed the 'bedroom tax' by Labour, came into force in April.

The government says it sees the removal of the 'spare room subsidy', which ministers say will encourage people in council homes to downsize to smaller properties.

That, they say, will help cut the £23bn annual bill for housing benefit and free up living space for other families.

Under new 'size criteria', tenants with one spare bedroom have had a payment reduction of 14pc and those deemed to have two or more spare, a reduction of 25pc.

But critics say it is pushing people into rent arrears, and leaders at Labour-controlled Norwich City Council say the estimated benefit loss to council tenants in the city is almost £1.5m a year.

Bert Bremner, the city council's cabinet member for housing, said: 'There is growing evidence that rent arrears are increasing and households are finding it very difficult to bridge the gap created by the reduction in benefit.

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'We now estimate the total benefit loss for our tenants is about £1.45m a year and 37pc of council tenants, who did not have rent arrears and have had a reduction to their housing benefit, now have some rent arrears.

'It is envisaged that these figures will increase as outstanding benefit assessments are dealt with.'

He said as of the end of June, 2,389 council tenant households have had housing benefit reductions due to the changes and 414 tenants are 'newly' in arrears.

The government says a system of additional funding, in the form of discretionary housing payments through local authorities, is available for those in difficulties and this week announced a further £35m of funding for that.

A legal challenge over claims the changes unlawfully discriminate against disabled people in social housing was dismissed by the High Court on Wednesday.

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