NEW figures reveal that more than 2,800 people in the area have been affected by the “spare room subsidy” or “bedroom tax”.
The figures, released by the Department for Work and Pensions, show that a total of 2,836 households out of 21,838 social housing tenants claiming housing benefit in Cheshire West and Chester were made to pay bedroom tax for having a spare room in their property.
The figures also showed that the average weekly deduction for having a spare bedroom was £14.57, or £757.64 a year.
This means that the government is recouping about £41,320.52 a week, or £2,148,667.04 a year, from claimants who live in the borough.
The scheme has attracted widespread criticism from opposition MPs who have said it is a tax on the most vulnerable in society but the Government says the aim of the change is to free up housing stock by encouraging people with houses which are too big to move to a smaller one.
The MP for the City of Chester has been a vocal supporter of the spare room subsidy and told the Leader the scheme was tackling over crowded conditions and said there had been “scaremongering” about the subsidy.
Stephen Mosley said: “If people are living in houses which have got spare bedrooms it is only fair that they should pay a contribution for that.
“There are a lot of people living in overcrowded conditions on waiting lists and they need to be treated fairly and are able to get the houses they need.
“What the figures show is there has been a lot of scaremongering about the spare room subsidy and that it is not having the effect that some people have claimed.
“It does seem to be having an effect on stopping people living in overcrowded conditions and helping people move out of houses which are too big for them.”
Mr Mosley also said that if people were in genuine difficulty they could apply for discretionary hardship payments and pointed out the figures did not show the amount of people receiving those payments.
He added: “If people can’t pay the spare room subsidy then they should be getting hardship.
“The people paying the subsidy are people who can afford it and living in a house which is too big for them.
“From my own experience we have had people who have had problems but it has been in the tens rather than anything larger and some of the claims I have read have been very exaggerated.
“I know talking to social housing providers in Chester the number of people in hardship is very low.
“One provider has around 20 or so and that is usually because the people have other issues in their lives.
“If people are disabled then they should be getting the discretionary payments. If people who are disabled are not getting those payments then please get in touch with me immediately so we can do something about it.”
But Cheshire West and Chester Council’s opposition Leader, Cllr Justin Madders, said there had been many people affected at his surgeries who couldn’t afford to pay and were not getting any discretionary payments and he also said discretionary payments are only available for up to 12 weeks.
Cllr Madders Madders said: “It is time this unfair tax was abolished and if Labour return to power at the next election it will be.
“I have come across many people who have been affected by the bedroom tax who are in a desperate situation.
“They are cutting back on other essentials such as heating and eating or are simply getting into debt because of this unjust tax.
“It disproportionately affects families with disabilities and hits the most vulnerable the hardest.
“The idea that this is tax is helping to free up properties is a nonsense – there are not 2,836 empty properties in Cheshire West and no sign that anything like the number of smaller properties needed are going to be built.
“It would take decades for that to happen and it is the fact that even if people were willing to move to a smaller property they are unable to do so because the smaller properties don’t exist that highlights the pernicious nature of this tax.
“I am even hearing now of larger properties becoming more difficult to let because families cannot afford the rent on them because of the bedroom tax.”
See full story in the Chester Leader