Fears over housing shortage as 'bedroom tax' comes into force

A shortfall in available one-bedroom rental properties means many tenants affected by changes to the benefits system will have difficulty moving to a smaller home, a campaign group has claimed.

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) said people living in rural communities in particular faced having to move away from family and friends if affected by the UK Government's new rules to tackle under-occupancy.

CAS quoted Scottish Government analysis that showed that while 60% of tenants need a one-bedroom property to avoid under-occupying their home, only 26% of occupied social rented properties have one bedroom.

"There is a mismatch between need and supply of one-bedroom properties, with the result being that many of those affected will not be able to find alternative accommodation," CAS said.

The advice group described a case of a 59-year-old woman in the Coatbridge area who has lived in the same house in the same village for 51 years and has been told she will have to pay 25% of her housing benefit, amounting to £16 per week.

"There are no one-bedroom houses in the village so she will have to leave, which she is finding very upsetting," said CAS.

Citizen advice bureaux across Scotland have dealt with enquiries from hundreds of affected tenants in the run-up to the benefits shake-up being rolled out this month.

These include people who require an extra room for a disabled child and those with specially adapted homes for their health conditions.

Under new government criteria, social housing tenants claiming housing benefit are entitled to one bedroom for each adult or couple.

Children aged nine or under are expected to share a room and children aged 15 or under are expected to share a room where there is another child of the same sex.

Households with a room deemed to be "spare" will have their benefit reduced by 14% of their eligible rent - estimated in Scotland to be £11 per week or more than £500 per year.

Opponents have warned that the measure, which they have dubbed the "bedroom tax", will hit poor families and the disabled especially hard.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has insisted that it will make the benefits system fairer while Pensions Minister Steve Webb maintains that the country's highest earners had taken the biggest hit.

Of the 105,000 households affected by the under occupation penalty, 83,000 report an adult in the household with a recognised disability.

"The proposed changes will therefore have a disproportionate impact on people with disabilities in Scotland," said CAS.

"There are limited exemptions for those with disabilities - including those who require an overnight carer - but the majority will still be affected."

CAS said its advisers had spoken to a number of clients who cannot share a bed with their partner due to a medical condition.

Others have sought advice on the basis that they need an extra room so that their children can stay with them on a part-time basis after separating from their partner.

CAS said: "These situations cover a wide range of people and needs, including adults with disabilities facing the loss of their adapted home, tenants who face moving out of rural communities away from family, friends and support structures and separated parents who face losing access to their children.

"Those affected have options to avoid these worst case scenarios. They can try to increase their income, look for a smaller tenancy, or try to move to the private rented sector.

"However, with a severe mismatch between need and supply for one-bedroom homes, many will find that they have little choice but to try to cope with reduced support on a low income. In this situation, it is inevitable that some will fall into arrears and face potential homelessness."

CAS called on the Government to exempt tenants of "significantly adapted" properties where they meet their long-term needs and also delay reductions in support where tenants have shown a clear intention to downsize but where there is insufficient supply of smaller houses within the social rented sector.

The Scottish Government said the "socially divisive" measure would increase inequalities across Scotland and hit the country's most vulnerable citizens.

A spokesman said: "We have already strengthened the protection for tenants against eviction for rent arrears, in advance of the introduction of the bedroom tax.

"We brought pre-action requirements for rent arrears into force to ensure proceedings for eviction is always the last resort.

"The Scottish Government is providing an extra £2.5m to social landlords to ensure there is support on hand for people who will lose housing benefit due to the under occupancy measures and other housing benefit cuts being introduced by Westminster from April."

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