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Saturday, 26 July 2014

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‘Money is tight, and this cut in benefits will make things worse...’

THE lives of families across Copeland are being devastated by the introduction of the controversial benefit shake-up dubbed the 'bedroom tax'.

From next month, people who are deemed to be living in a home with more bedrooms than the Government says they need will have housing benefit slashed by up to 25 per cent.

Under the new rules, one bedroom is allowed for each adult couple or single person. Children under 16 of the same sex are expected to share a room, as are children under 10, regardless of sex. Across Copeland, it is believed around 1,700 households will be affected.

Households with more bedrooms than occupants face a benefit cut or the prospect of moving to a smaller property. However, Copeland has a shortfall of available one and two-bedroom houses.

Here we look at the effects of the tax on two families.

FIONA Thompson has lived at her three-bedroom home on Burnmoor Avenue for 14 years. She lives with her six-year-old son, and under the new rules will be paying around £60 extra a week.

“One of the suggestions is to have a lodger to fill the extra bedroom,’’ Fiona said. “As a single mother with a small child, it would be difficult for that to work. We are not allowed to have family live in the bedroom so it would have to be a stranger.

“So how would I vet a total stranger who comes to live in my home? As a woman on here own with a child who would want to do that?

“I enjoy living here and don’t want to move, but I couldn’t afford it anyway,’’ she said. “Even those who want to move to a two-bedroom house, I’m not sure where these houses are and if there would be enough.

“Money is tight, and this cut in benefits will make things worse,’’ Fiona added. “Over the years I’ve learnt not to panic and I’ll just have to get on with it. I will just have to cut down again.’’

Jamie Reed, Copeland’s MP, said: “It is clear that the consequences of this ill-thought-out tax on families will be enormous. The many letters I have received from constituents about this shameful policy are just the tip of the iceberg.

“Each Copeland family affected by this will be forced by Government to find an extra £500 a year to keep their home.

“Many families will not be able to avoid this tax by moving house, as there just aren’t the homes available for people to move into – the Government’s own policy assessment shows this.”

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne said: “David Cameron promised to stand up for parents, but his bedroom tax is a £100m tax bombshell for single mums and dads.

”The bedroom tax has now been exposed as a chaotic disaster, but it’s not too late for the prime minister to do the decent thing, admit he has got this wrong and think again.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said: “Councils have been given an extra £155m this year so that they can help their vulnerable tenants, with £30m specifically targeted towards supporting disabled people, who have modified their homes, and foster carers.

“We need to ensure a better use of social housing when over a quarter of a million tenants are living in overcrowded homes and two million are on housing waiting lists.’’

Drop-ins are being held to help those affected by the bedroom tax. They will be on Monday, March 18, at the United Reformed Church, Whitehaven, from 11am-6.30pm; Thursday, March 21, at The Falcon Club, Egremont, from 11am-6.30pm and on Friday, March 22, at Millom Network Centre from 11am-6.30pm.

ALAN Markbride is classed as having a spare bedroom. Alan doesn’t see it that way. He regards the second bedroom as a means of staying in touch with his children.

Alan is divorced with a 14-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter. He lives in a two-bedroom flat owned by Impact Housing in Whitehaven. Every two weeks his children come to stay.

Alan, 56, has osteoarthritis in both knees and blocked arteries in his legs. He receives £96 a week in benefits. Having a second bedroom is about to cost him £14 a week.

“I think it’s totally unfair,” he says. “I could put in for a one-bedroom flat but there’s none available. The Government wants people to take in a lodger but you need your privacy. And where would my children stay?”

Alan has been doing his sums, and is struggling to make them add up to a happy ending. “When you’re on £96 a week, £14 is a big drop. There’s nothing I can do about it. I don’t think the Government realises how much it’s going to affect people like myself.”

COPELAND Council leader Elaine Woodburn will be sleeping in Whitehaven’s bandstand next Monday to highlight the plight of those affected by the bedroom tax.

From 7pm, she will be joined by around 15 others, including councillors, in a bedtime vigil at Castle Park which will also raise cash for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

Coun Woodburn said she fears the government-enforced tax from April will mean more hardship for tenants facing benefit cuts for unoccupied bedrooms.

She said: “The 1,700 Cope-land households affected by the bedroom tax will be losing £1.1m, and Copeland has been given £94,000 to mitigate against this.

“Anyone with a basic understanding of finance can see this does not add up. It’s unbelievable that a government that alleges to protect the most vulnerable has introduced a tax that is incompetent, unfair, out of touch and which will affect many.

“Many of the households affected are home to someone disabled. Foster families will be hit, divorced parents will be charged more and there are not enough smaller properties for families to move into even if they wanted to.”

Have you been affected by the bedroom tax? Email julie.morgan@cnmedia.co.uk

Have your say

I live in Millom and will be affected by the bedroom tax.I live in a two bed terrace on my own and recieve £71-70 a week. When this tax comes in, I will have less than £60 a week to live on. The letter that tells me my benefit entitlement says "the law says I need £71-70 to live" How does this work?

Posted by James Rowe on 9 March 2013 at 23:46

I work 40 hours per week, and have worked all my life. My mother is 61, unwell, yet was deemed fit for work and has been on jsa for 2 years, threatened to be placed on various work programs, even tho she has worked all her life. We live on supermarket brand basics.My grandad had to work in the pits at 12-13 years of age without choice, yet continued to work the rest of his life,he has now passed away and my grandma, a widow, now lives on basic pension, less than single mothers with plenty of kids receive, yet these people are claiming hard times???? I walk past houses on the place where child poverty is 2nd highest, there is a 40" flat screen tv in every room and a car outisde, they are always drinking, and i know they claim benefits. And this estate has the highest rate of people claiming food parcels..sorry folks, stop moaning and make your own way in life, bedroom tax is your detatchment from the apron strings!!

Posted by OLFO-OLFA on 8 March 2013 at 20:52

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