East Riding Council rejects plea to suspend 'bedroom tax'
CALLS to suspend any reduction in housing benefits for people applying to move into smaller homes have been rejected by East Riding councillors.
Under the so-called bedroom tax being introduced in April, working age council and housing association tenants will have their housing benefit cut if they are deemed to be under-occupying their properties.
Households classed as having a spare room will see a 14 per cent reduction in benefit, which typically covers rent payments.
Those with two spare rooms face a 25 per cent cut in benefit.
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The changes being brought in by the Government are expected to hit about 1,200 council households in the East Riding as well as 300 residents in housing association properties.
At a full council meeting yesterday, opposition Labour Councillor Shelagh Finlay moved a motion calling on the authority not to levy residents in council housing classed as being under-occupied if they have applied to move to a smaller property.
She said the proposed move would apply if the council was unable to provide a smaller home.
She said: "This is not a debate about the rights and wrongs of national policy. What we are saying is that the council can decide in the interests of fairness."
Cllr Finlay claimed waiving any reduction in benefits would be possible if the council increased the amount of funding it currently uses for discretionary housing payments to tenants struggling in emergency situations. That budget stands at £374,000 a year.
But Councillor Symon Fraser, portfolio holder for housing, said increasing that budget could only be achieved by increasing council tax charges for all residents in the East Riding.
He also claimed the council's hands were tied because the welfare reforms were part of national legislation, which could not be amended by local councils.
He said: "The change in the housing benefit system – the bedroom tax – is laid down in law by the Government and we have to implement it. It is as straightforward as that.
"It is not a levy, it is a specific benefit reduction. There is no freedom for us as a council to waive the reduction in benefit for someone wanting to downsize."
Cllr Fraser said he agreed the changes would "not be helpful" to people deemed to be under-occupying their homes and claimed the reforms could trigger "unintended consequences".