Families in Newcastle are going hungry just so they can hang onto their homes following the introduction of the bedroom tax, a report has said.
Research released by Newcastle University reveals communities are being ripped apart by the tax, which has left people in the region feeling “hopeless”.
Many are finding it almost impossible to manage ever-decreasing incomes, with many spiralling into debt and rent arrears in order to afford bare essentials such as food.
Tyneside, where the research was carried out, is disproportionately affected by the bedroom tax with some 50,000 households estimated to be ‘under-occupying’.
Social housing provider Your Homes Newcastle (YHN) reported last year that 66% of people affected by the bedroom tax were in rent arrears.
Residents were finding it increasingly difficult to buy simple, basic foodstuffs and in some extreme cases, cutting down to just one meal a day, or going to bed early to evade hunger and keep warm – a pattern more prevalent among parents to ensure their children were properly fed.
The University research – A qualitative study of the impact of the UK ‘bedroom tax’ – looks at the effects of the tax on the area.
It followed people living in Walker in Newcastle, which is in the top 10% most deprived areas of the UK, where around 650 homes are affected by the bedroom tax.
Dr Suzanne Moffatt, who was involved in the research, said:
“The bedroom tax reduces a home to simply bricks and mortar.
“However, these are homes that people invest in over time, places of safety within communities that offer friendship and support.
“As a consequence, many of those we interviewed elected to pay the tax in order to stay in their homes, resulting in cutting back on essentials such as food and heat to do so.
“Rather than improve housing stock efficiency and save tax payers money, the effect of the bedroom tax in the North East is likely to make the distribution of social housing less efficient.”
Dr Moffatt says the new study undermines Government claims that implementing the ‘removal of the spare room subsidy’ in April 2013 would not have a detrimental impact on people’s health and well-being.
“Monumental effort was put in by people to simply ‘survive’. Their accounts powerfully demonstrate how loss of income as a result of the bedroom tax has a detrimental effect on mental health, with many saying it had left them feeling ‘hopeless’.”
Researchers within Newcastle University’s Institute of Health and Society also looked at the YHN pilot scheme set up in help people in response to the introduction of the tax.
Neil Scott, director of Tenancy Services, said:
“We encouraged residents to enrol onto training courses. For those that took part, it was highly beneficial, with a small number of mainly short-term jobs created within our organisation.”
The pilot ran for seven months from September 2013 to April 2014 and included budgeting and housing advice, with a focus on testing the Government’s claims that work pays by supporting residents who were farthest from the labour market to gain employment.
Dr Moffatt added:
“Although this pilot was fantastic for those involved, one person working over seven months can only achieve so much.
“At a time when local authority budgets are being increasingly tightened, it is always going to be difficult to fund interventions of this kind.
“These people are not languishing around on benefits by any means – they face many complex barriers to employment such the poor state of the local labour market, as well as mental or physical health issues and lack of qualifications.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 16 Mar 2015
A disabled man claims he is facing eviction from his council flat over falling behind on rent payments.
The man, who wanted to remain anonymous, has blamed the Bedroom Tax for getting into financial difficulty and could be made to move in just over a month.
That’s if Your Homes Newcastle, an organisation which manages council homes across the city, decides to evict him from his flat in Westgate Road.
The potential eviction follows the loss of the tenant’s housing benefit.
Though it was reinstated, a shortfall caused by the bedroom tax was not paid, meaning his rent arrears have continued to rise.
The man appealed his eviction yesterday at Newcastle Crown Court in a case which will be heard again in 42 days. It will allow him to reapply for benefits that will enable him to pay his rent and reduce the level of arrears, according to the housing provider.
Following the hearing, he was joined at Todd’s Nook Tower on Westgate Road by fellow tenants and activists in protest of the proposals.
The man, who suffers from anxiety which worsens his arthritis, said his life has become dramatically worse since the situation began.
“This situation has made everything worse for me. The anxiety causes so much pain in my body and makes my arthritis even worse. It’s a massive downward health spiral.”
He added that the situation had left him unhappy in his own home, where he has lived for almost a decade.
“I now hate being in the flat, I want out of it. The memories created by the way the council have treated me sicken me. There’s no way I can be happy here,” he said.
He said that the extended 42-day window before the decision is made on the eviction will give him more time to involve disability activists in his case in a bid to save himself from eviction.
Campaigner James Bell, 23, from Whitley Bay, attended the demonstration has offered support and advice to other tenants being hit by the tax.
Mr Bell said: “He’s come out and given support to people who are going through this. He’s been consistent to opposition to this.”
Tradesman Richard Hartfield, 34, from the West End of Newcastle added:
“We’re putting the unity back in community. He’s helped others in need and we’re to return that.
“I’ve been in that situation a few times, it’s about having other people there that you can go to for advice. We’re here to defend the man and his rights.”
Your Homes Newcastle said eviction was only an option in the most extreme circumstances and that the situation has arisen after attempts to engage with the man failed.
Director of tenancy services Neil Scott said:
“Since the introduction of the bedroom tax in April 2013 we have made every effort to assist any tenant who has been affected and offer support to enable them to meet their rent payments.
“Eviction action has been an absolute last resort where we have exhausted all other avenues or where tenants have refused support from us.”
A spokesman for Newcastle City Council said:
“The council social housing provider Your Homes Newcastle has an excellent track record in supporting tenants who find themselves facing financial difficulties. We would much prefer to work with those at risk to help them avoid losing their homes. Clearly this does depend on the tenants being willing to cooperate in the process.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 28 Nov 2014
The companies that operate council homes in both Newcastle and Gateshead are coming together to hold “swap it” events in which people from both sides of the river can exchange homes that are either too big or too small for them.
Hundreds of families in both communities have been hit by the Government’s bedroom tax if they have too many spare rooms for the numbers of people occupying their property.
But many have been unable to downsize because there aren’t the smaller properties available for them to move into.
It is hoped the swap events will make it easier for them to find better houses for their needs.
Kevin Johnson, The Gateshead Housing Company’s head of customer services, said: “Some of our customers have found themselves in a home that is either too big or too small for their household needs.
“Our mutual exchange scheme offers tenants the option to avoid waiting for a suitable home to come up and potentially move more quickly.”
John Urwin, manager of housing needs at Your Homes Newcastle, said, “The impact of welfare reform has meant that lots of our tenants are looking to downsize but with a lack of suitable sized accommodation this isn’t always possible. Mutual exchange is yet another option for tenants that not only benefits the person needing to downsize, but also helps free up much needed family accommodation.”
Sessions are being held for people wanting to swap their houses on April 29 at Gateshead Civic Centre, and at Bewick Hall, in Newcastle City Library, on May 1. Both run from 10am to 12 noon.
Tenants wanting to book their place on either event can call Your Homes Newcastle on 0191 278 8600, text ‘Swap’ followed by their name to 0781 4753088 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Information is also available online at www.yhn.org.uk or www.gatesheadhousing.co.uk/swapit .
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 28 March 2014
Newcastle City Council is considering “re-designating” whole tower blocks of two-bedroom flats as one-bedroom properties – because tenants can’t afford to pay the bedroom tax.
Two thirds of council housing tenants are currently behind on their rent, double the number before the bedroom tax was introduced.
The impact of the bedroom tax on families across the city was revealed by Coun Joyce McCarty, deputy leader of Newcastle City Council, when she spoke to MPs. Coun McCarty was giving evidence to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, which is holding an inquiry into how changes to the welfare system have affected housing.
New rules introduced by the Government mean housing benefit is cut for claimants in social housing who are considered to have a spare room. The policy has been dubbed a ‘bedroom tax’ by critics, while ministers say they are ending a ‘spare-room subsidy’.
Coun McCarty said 5,500 households in the city were hit by the policy. And others who weren’t currently affected were desperate to avoid it, even if that meant turning down the offer of a two-bedroom property.
She told MPs: “Because previously people wanted space, we actually pulled down one bedroom flats not that long ago. We are thinking of re-designating complete tower blocks of two bedroom flats as one bedroom flats, because people can’t afford them.”
This would allow tenants to avoid having their housing benefit cut, but it would also mean the council lost money, she said.
“The impact of doing that is huge because that’s a loss of rental income as well.”
“We’ve got lots [of properties] that people don’t want to move in to . . . couples and individuals don’t want to move in to there because they know they’d have to pay additional costs.”
Newcastle had been particularly affected by the change to housing benefit because 23% of residents live in social housing, compared to a national average of just10%, she said.
Your Homes Newcastle, who manage council homes on behalf of the council, visited tenants to make sure they were claiming everything they were entitled to.
“At the moment 66% of our tenants are in arrears, which is double what it would have been before April, so that can be allocated to be the bedroom tax,” Coun McCarty added. “There are about 139 currently pending facing eviction since the bedroom tax was introduced.”
But the council was working with all the tenants involved to try to keep them in their homes, she said. In theory, tenants could move into smaller properties. However, those properties were not available.
“We have 3,500 people wanting to have one bedroom properties now, but each year we probably have 800 free so it will take us several years to reallocate those people.”
Your Homes Newcastle said it was considering re-designating a further 1,200 properties, but could not specify which blocks. Neil Scott, director of tenancy services said: “Newcastle has an unusually large proportion of accommodation in high rise properties. We currently manage 44 blocks over six storeys. The vast majority of properties in these blocks are two bedroom. We have 2,594 two bedroom flats in high rise properties, and 80 of those are available for let.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 06 Jan 2014