TENANTS who have their housing benefit slashed for every spare room in their homes have almost no hope of finding a smaller property in Southend it has been revealed.
The Government has cut the benefit for social housing tenants with spare rooms by up to a quarter in a bid to persuade them to move into smaller properties.
In theory, the cut, dubbed the “bedroom tax” by critics, should free up social housing for the 1,200 people on the waiting list in Southend, as well as cut the welfare bill.
But while more than 648 Southend tenants had their benefits cut this month, only 76 properties were available to move into, the Echo can reveal.
Tim Sneller, chairman of Southend Against the Cuts, said: “It has been a problem all along that there was never a plan to provide people with appropriatesize housing.
“Their laughable plan is to build ‘affordable’ housing they can sell for as much as possible.
“More and more people will be forced into inadequate private housing.”
The Government has claimed the scheme has been a success, as the number of people facing the benefit cut has dropped. In Southend, it is down by almost a fifth since it was introduced, last April.
But only a third of the 181 claimants in the borough no longer facing the cut have moved into smaller social housing on a voluntary basis. Some 14 were forced to move after going into rent arrears.
The rest may no longer be eligible for housing benefit, or have moved into private property.
Southend Council, which administers housing benefit for the Government, is supporting people with particular needs for spare rooms, such as disabled people with a carer through “discretionary housing payments”.
But campaigners fear the problem will worsen when Government funding for those payments dries up.
Ian Gilbert, leader of the council’s Labour group, said: “The reason we aren’t hearing about significant numbers of evictions is there are discretionary housing payments to the people who aren’t able to easily move.
“These payments will not last for ever. If, and when, the discretionary payments are reduced it could be a different story.”
The council received £581,762 for the payments this financial year, with £63,209 left unspent.
Nationally, Government funding will drop from £180million to £165million for 2014/15.
A council spokesman said: “We’re focused on doing whatever is possible to assist people to move, if that’s in their best interest.
“The council has identified a number of sites throughout the borough that have potential to become social housing developments.”
STROKE VICTIM: THEY'LL NEVER MOVE ME
A DISABLED stroke victim pays £34.52 a week in bedroom tax to stay in the house he has lived in all his life.
Tony Livermore’s parents and brother lived with him in his three-bedroom house, in Kent Avenue, Leigh, until they died.
The 58-year-old, who is paralysed on one side, fears moving away from the helpful neighbours he has known all his life and instead sacrifices a quarter of his housing benefit to stay there.
Representatives from South Essex Homes, which manages Southend Council’s housing stock, have tried to persuade Mr Livermore to move into sheltered housing.
However, although he struggles to walk or carry out simple household tasks since suffering a massive stroke a decade ago, he wants to remain
in his childhood home.
He said: “I grew up here. I know all my neighbours and they
look after me.
“I’m not leaving this house until I die.”