‘Bedroom tax’ bombshell set to explode

UNSUSPECTING people in East Dunbartonshire face a ‘bedroom bombshell’ with controversial changes on the way which could see their housing benefit cut.

Cutbacks pushed through by the Westminster Government mean a nationwide benefits shake-up – and it is already hitting home locally.

Experts at the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) in Kirkintilloch and other voluntary groups have been battling to stem a tide of enquiries from residents worried about the imminent changes.

One of the most controversial is the forthcoming ‘bedroom tax’ – being brought in on April 1.

That will affect anyone of working age (16-64) who rents a home from a local authority, housing association or registered social landlord which is deemed ‘too big’ for them. New criteria allows one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household.

Children under 16 of the same gender are expected to share one room, while children under 10 are expected to share regardless of gender.

A disabled tenant or partner who needs a non-resident overnight carer will be allowed an extra room.

Tenants who have one extra bedroom will have a 14 per cent cut applied to their housing benefit and those with two or more extra bedrooms will have a 25 per cent reduction applied.

Around 600 warning letters have been sent out to people who could be penalised in East Dunbartonshire.

CAB manager Catherine Bradley said: “People are going to end up with a shortfall in their rent if they are affected.

“You might be someone who wants to keep a room free for the grandchildren coming at the weekend or you’ve been in a relationship break-up and take the kids for a couple of nights a week.

“It will be an issue for a lot of people. One-bedroom properties in East Dunbartonshire are very few and far between.”

People could be faced with difficult choices such as trying to move, taking in a lodger, asking for family help to pay the rent or applying for a discretionary housing payment.

Demand for CAB services has never been higher with tough measures being introduced by the UK Government.

Jobseekers are being hit by a number of sanctions if it is deemed that have not done enough to find work – affecting council tax and housing benefit.

The switch from incapacity benefit to Employment Support Allowance (ESA) has also led to a surge in enquiries.

And there are more changes on the way:

* Restrictions to the amount of housing benefit that social sector tenants can receive

* A limit on the benefits workless households receive

* Abolishing council tax benefit and replacing it with local schemes

* Replacing the Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payments

* Universal Credit replacing working age benefits

There are also changes ahead on crisis payments, which people often need if they have no money due to changes in benefits, etc.

Catherine said: “The demand for services as regards welfare reform is astounding and it’s ever increasing.”

The message from CAB is to visit or call if you have concerns. Staff and volunteers can help to ensure you are getting all the benefits to which you are entitled. They can also look at ways to budget and cut costs.

The CAB operates a drop-in at the Fraser Centre, Milngavie every Wednesday morning and every Thursday morning by appointment.

Call 0141 775 3220 or e-mail bureau@eastdunbartoncab.casonline.org.uk