Wednesday, 14 August 2013 19:34

'Bedroom tax will destroy communities'

Written by  Ruralcity Media
'Bedroom tax will destroy communities'

The government's ‘bedroom tax’ will lead to the break-up of communities already bearing the brunt of benefit cuts, a rural charity has warned.

The under-occupation charge for social housing tenants would force people to leave the villages where they grew up, said Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE).

A dearth of one and two-bedroom homes in the countryside meant rural tenants would have no choice but to move into towns and cities if they couldn't make up the rent shortfall, it said.

The government had failed to ‘rural proof’ the penalty, which cuts the benefits of tenants of working age in homes deemed to have spare rooms.

ACRE is backing a call by the House of Commons rural affairs select committee to exclude settlements of fewer than 3,000 people from the controversial charge.

The umbrella body for England’s 38 rural community councils, surveyed its members to assess the impact of the tax, which cuts housing benefit by an average of £14 a week.

It cost £2,700 a year more to live in the countryside than it does to live in a city, said ACRE chief executive Janice Banks.

“The Department of Work and Pensions forecast in its impact assessment that the policy could have a greater impact on rural areas because there are fewer appropriate size homes available locally.

“Yet it went ahead with a blanket approach which will inevitably force rural tenants out of villages where they have lived for years, taking them away from their extended families, schools and support networks.

The charge would take key workers away from areas where they perform vital roles, said Ms Banks. The bedroom tax took no account of the challenges rural tenants face, she added.

“Those who stay put and try to make up the shortfall are likely to be already struggling with the high cost of living in rural areas.

“Local councils can give extra help to those struggling to meet housing costs, but these payments are only temporary.

Social housing providers are facing mounting arrears from tenants who are unable to find the additional payments.

ACRE is calling on the government to make a rural exception to the bedroom tax for social housing tenants who simply cannot find a suitable, smaller home in the local area.

Ms Banks said ACRE “wholeheartedly” backed a recent report by the rural affairs select committee which said settlements of fewer than 3,000 people should be excluded from the charge.

“Our fear is that the accumulated changes in benefits, including Universal Credit, cuts to council tax support and the bedroom tax, will make it even harder for poorer people to remain in rural areas.

“It is yet another example of the ‘rural penalty’ paid by countryside communities.”

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