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Hundreds will be hit by new 'bedroom tax'
ONE in four city tenants who claim housing benefit will be affected by a controversial “bedroom tax”, figures obtained by the Oxford Mail show.
Oxford City Council said 872 out of about 3,500 working-age claimants are to lose cash because the Government says they have “spare” bedrooms.
The changes will also affect about one in five Oxfordshire people – 3,313 out of 18,661.
The Government said the changes – to begin on April 1 for social housing tenants only – are vital to cut the city’s rising benefit bill and free up homes by forcing people to downsize.
But critics warned it would hit the poorest and the city does not have enough homes for them to move to.
Darren Belcher, 46, of Comfrey Road, Blackbird Leys, faces a 14 per cent £14.70 cut in his £105-a-week benefit for his four-bedroom house.
He has four children aged 11, 10, eight and seven who each have their own room while he and wife Racheal, 44, sleep in the dining room.
But the new rules state same-sex children under 16 should share and under 10s should share regardless of gender.
He gets £200 incapacity benefit for a lower back injury, £160 income support every fortnight and £209 child tax credits a week.
He said: “If we have to take a cut from somewhere else like food then we’ll have to do that.
“Why should an 11-year-old who is maturing have to share with another sibling?”
Suzy Drohan, joint manager of Barton’s Oxfordshire Welfare Rights, warned of an increase in evictions and said: “Where they live has the support network around them – support that would cost a hell of a lot more if it was provided by an agency.”
The move will cut £3.1m from the county’s housing benefit bill for social housing, which totalled £98.8m last year.
Mrs Drohan branded this a drop in the ocean and said £1.1m in Government cash for county councils to help those affected is a “sticking plaster”.
More than 6,000 people are on the Labour-run city council’s waiting list for social housing but deputy leader Ed Turner said: “The problem in Oxford is there is not enough smaller units to go round. Some will be stuck in accommodation that is too big for their needs.”
Labour East Oxford MP Andrew Smith branded it an unfair tax and said he had written to ministers “complaining about its unfair impact, especially in stressed housing areas like Oxford”.
But Conservative Banbury MP Sir Tony Baldry said: “It “goes some way in redressing the balance so that the social housing stock is used as evenly as it can be”.
There are 19,139 county people on social housing waiting lists. The social sector housing benefit bill rose from £73.8m in 2007/08 to £98.8m last year while claimants went from 15,610 to 18,661.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “Every household has to decide whether or not they can afford to have a spare bedroom, and families on benefits should be no different.”
The changes do not affect OAPs or those with a pension age partner or a disabled tenant or partner who needs an extra room for carers.
Banbury single sum Tamsyn Moth, 40, is looking to downsize from her three-bedroom home in Bretch Hill because of the changes.
Miss Moth – mum to Madison, six and Harper, three – said: “I will have to move. I can’t afford to live in this house.”
She said the demands of childcare prevent her working full-time but she would be worse off working part-time.
Miss Moth, whose housing benefit covers her £105-a-week rent, said: “We are going to benefit from it. We will save money on heating and rent so I can get back on track.”
SINGLE mum Ann-Marie O’Sullivan is considering taking in a lodger to help her meet the £17.50 cut in her £125-a-week housing benefit.
She is concerned about moving twin sons Conor and Casey, nine, into one room at her three-bedroomed Wallingford home. Miss O’Sullivan has been told her housing benefit – which covers all her rent – will be cut by 14 per cent as her sons should share.
But she said: “They need their space for a regularly harmonious house.
“They need to be apart but because of this they are not going to be able to be. Just because they are the same age and sex doesn’t mean they are going to get on the whole time.”
She said she did not want to move as she struggled to find a primary that would take the boys in separate classes.
Miss O’Sullivan, who does not work, said: “To get the best out of them they need to learn separately and have separate friends.”
Her weekly income comprises £60 income support and £90 child tax credit while her council tax is covered by council tax benefit.
She said: “For some people £20 is not a lot of money but if you are a single parent on a limited budget then £20 is a hell of a lot of money.
“I think there are going to be a lot of people who will find it extremely difficult.”
She can sub-let with the approval of her housing association Soha Housing Ltd.