FIFERS on housing benefits who are under occupying their property are set to be hit when welfare reform changes come into force next month.
Under the new legislation those claiming housing benefit for a property with what is considered ‘spare’ bedrooms will receive less money, paying what has been deemed a ‘bedroom tax’.
A large number of households will be affected by the changes and Linda Vanbeck is one Kirkcaldy resident who is expected to pay the ‘bedroom tax’.
She lives in a three bedroom house in the town with her husband and two grandchildren, who the couple foster.
But under the legislation, because her granddaughters are both under 16 they are expected to share a bedroom, so the third bedroom is considered spare.
The reduction in housing benefit is a worry to the family.
She explained: “We’ve got three bedrooms and we’re going to have to pay the 14 per cent bedroom tax because they reckon the girls should be sharing a room.
“The eldest is 11 and her sister is five.
“The government think that if there are children of the same sex in the same house they are not entitled to have space of their own and should share a bedroom.
“Our eldest granddaughter is 11, she’s going to high school soon.
“As much as she gets on with her sister, she’s only five, and she’s going to need her own space.”
Mrs Vanbeck (61), said the legislation is “very unfair” and leaves people with very little alternative than having to pay.
She said: “I have lived in this house for almost 25 years, and had I not had the girls here it would have been an even worse blow for us, although it would have been different as I would still be working.
“I feel it’s unfair to be taxing people on a bedroom.
“We’re now going to have to find that money regardless, just to live in our home.
“It’s not just us, but a lot of vulnerable people are going to have to find that money somehow.
“It’s more money we have to pay out and it takes it away from the girls.
“It’s people on low incomes or benefits that are having to pay this tax and where’s it supposed to come from?
“The only way not to have to pay the bedroom tax would be to move into a smaller house.
“For me at this particular time it’s not an option for me to give up that third bedroom.
“If I was to consider it though, not only would it depend on a two bedroom house being available, but we could move now to a smaller house, and then in a few years when my eldest granddaughter turns 16 we’d have to move again as she’d then be entitled to her own room.
“It’s just not practical and not fair to expect people to do that.
“I actually can’t believe this was passed through government, I don’t think any of it has been thought through.”
Motion to “never evict a tenant.”
SNP councillors are backing a motion calling on Fife Council to commit itself to never evicting any of its tenants for ‘bedroom tax’ related rent arrears.
The motion is being submitted for the next full meeting of the Council, due to take place in April, by Councillors Brian Goodall and Alice McGarry.
The motion, backed by the local authority’s SNP group, condemns the Westminster government’s under occupation penalty.
It calls on the Council to advise and support its tenants, to record any new rent arrears related to the bedroom tax separately from other debts to the Council and to never evict any of its tenants purely on the grounds of ‘bedroom tax’ rent arrears.
The SNP are also demanding that ‘bedroom tax’ arrears not be used as an impediment to any future allocations, exchanges or housing transfers for Fife Council tenants.
“Onerous, unfair and arbitrary.”
KIRKCALDY MP Gordon Brown has branded the ‘bedroom tax’ as “offensive, oneorous, unfair and arbitrary” and is calling for the cuts to be postponed.
The Labour MP has sent a “hard hitting” Fife report to Work Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, and has also taken up the matter personally with him at a meeting.
He said more than 1200 residents in his Kirkcaldy constituency were affected.
Mr Brown is supporting the Fife Council hotline for people to apply for discretionary payments, but says it will not be enough to rectify the “injustice” of up to £25 a week cuts in benefits which requires a change in the plans.
The MP’s report shows in Kirkcaldy and Fife there is “a lack of one bedroom accommodation in the social sector.
“In many areas this mismatch could mean that there are insufficient properties to enable tenants to move to”.
“We are worried about rent arrears.”
DAVID Ross, depute leader of Fife Council and Kirkcaldy councillor, said the changes are “a real worry”.
He said: “We have identified there’s probably about 5000 Council tenants and another 1000 housing association tenants in Fife affected by this.
“We are doing all we can contacting our tenants and making sure they are aware and getting the assistance they need to cope with the problem.
“We are worried certainly about the impact on rent arrears and on homelessness.
“The other aspect we’re concerned about is benefit payments being paid directly to tenants and not to landlords.
“Part of the theory is put people in smaller homes, but we don’t have enough stock of one bedroom houses to do that even if we wanted to.”
“It’s a very unfair and injust tax.”
DAVID Torrance, Kirkcaldy MSP, said he has been inundated with concerns from constituents who will be affected by the change.
He said: “It’s a very unfair and unjust tax on the most vulnerable members of society.
“It doesn’t take into account medical conditions and disabilities in different cases that require extra bedrooms.
“The Westminster Government has forced this on us and there’s no leeway in this at all.
“We believe it’s going to affect over 1200 houses in my constituency alone.
“It’s been ill thought out and we do not have one or two bedroom houses to move people in to.
“So these people are caught in a trap here. They don’t have any where to move to, so they have to stay where they are and are having to pay the tax.
“It could end up costing families an extra £24 a week, that’s £100 a month which a lot of people don’t have in their pockets at such difficult economic times.