Empty bedrooms may see housing benefit cut

Cllr Brian Goodall has hit out at the reforms
Cllr Brian Goodall has hit out at the reforms

THOUSANDS of households in Fife will have their benefits cut because they are deemed to have too many bedrooms in their homes.

New under occupancy rules will be introduced in April 2013 as part of the UK Government’s welfare reforms, described this week as “immoral” by a Fife councillor.

An estimated £40m will be lost to the Fife economy due to the cuts, with housing benefit claimants among those who will lose out.

Councillor Brian Goodall (SNP, Dunfermline South) said the UK Government should be targeting millionaires in mansions instead of hitting the poorest in society.

“These reforms are immoral,” he said. “This is taking money away which is needed by people to enable them to live, money which circulates in our communities and supports the Fife economy.”

The Council estimates more than 5000 working age families in Fife will be affected by the under occupancy rules which allow one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household – although there are some significant exceptions.

Children under 16 of the same gender are expected to share and children under 10 regardless of gender are expected to share, but a disabled tenant or partner who needs a non-resident overnight carer will be allowed an extra room.

Others who will have their benefits cut include separated parents not designated as the ‘main carer’ but who share the care of their children and have been allocated an extra bedroom to reflect this.

Foster carers will also lose out because foster children are not counted as part of the household for benefit purposes.

Housing benefit will be cut by 14 per cent for those deemed to have one extra bedroom and by 25 per cent for those with two or more extra bedrooms.

Other welfare reforms include a cap which will restrict state benefits to a maximum of £500 per week for couples or lone parents, and £350 for single people. This is expected to hit around 100 Fife households.

In a report considered by councillors this week, Steve Grimmond, executive director for environment, enterprise and communities, warned the welfare reforms would have a significant impact on many Fifers.

He said: “Early findings confirm the hardest hit groups are households without work, lone parent households, large families, disabled people and ‘under occupying’ households in social housing.”

Councillor Andrew Rodger (Independent, Buckhaven, Methil and Wemyss villages) warned that at a time when the Council is facing big cuts in its own budget, it would only be able to do so much to try to help those affected.

He added: “While many of us accept the benefit system needs to be simplified, it is wrong to be penalising the poorest in society.”