1,000 Dungannon families to be hit by ‘bedroom’ tax
BY ANTHONY QUINN
MORE than a thousand of Dungannon District’s poorest households as well as a large number of private landlords will be hit with ‘potentially devastating’ financial penalties if a controversial new ‘bedroom tax’ is introduced in April.
According to housing experts, the new tax will hit nearly two thirds of the local district’s housing benefit claimants in the social sector leading to rent arrears and increased homelessness.
It will mean that claimants who have a spare bedroom in their house will lose about £650 out of their annual housing benefit allowance. Those with two spare bedrooms will lose about £1,000 annually.
There are currently 1,702 housing benefit claimants in the local district, according to Housing Executive figures, which means about 1,056 of them could face the financial penalty.
Dungannon’s private landlords, who make up 16% of the district’s occupied housing tenures, will also be hit by the changes, according to the HE.
A total of 2010 housing benefit claimants are housed in Dungannon’s private sector, meaning that a further 1,200 claimants with private landlords could be hit by the financial penalty.
In their latest report on the Dungannon housing market, the HE predicted that although the local population is expected to increase, the average size of households will decrease, thus leading to more financial penalties for families and landlords.
The HE report stated: “Local estate agents indicate that the private rented sector is an important housing option within the District, with Dungannon town and Coalisland having the highest concentrations.”
However, the report added: “Recent changes to Housing Benefit entitlement may create affordability pressures for some private sector tenants.
Continued on page 5.
“Further changes are planned for April 2013 which includes a reduction in Housing Benefit for claimants under-occupying social rented accommodation and the end of the existing Housing Benefit scheme for rates liability.
“The impact of these changes on the housing market and particularly tenure choice is as yet difficult to predict.”
Sinn Fein MLA Bronwyn McGahan warned of the potentially devastating effects of the penalties.
“One of the Tory Welfare Reform proposals is on under-occupancy or a so-called bedroom tax”, she said.
“Sinn Féin oppose this bedroom tax measure and will continue to do so for all the obvious reasons. This agenda was designed in the South of England and is not fit for purpose here in the North for many reasons including our housing stock not fitting the profile of need and that it will have a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable within our communities.
“We will continue to oppose this measure and publicly state our case on this issue as the Welfare Reform bill progresses onto the floor of the Assembly in the coming weeks.”
New research by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) has shown that 62 percent of working age tenants across Northern Ireland will be affected by the so-called under-occupation penalty.
The analysis, which was based on the Department for Work and Pensions’ Family Resources Survey, suggests that around 32,000 will be affected, of which about 26,000 are Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) tenants and around 6,000 are housing association tenants.
The bedroom tax, which will come into force in England, Wales and Scotland in April, will see social tenants lose up to 25 percent of their housing benefit if they are deemed to be under-occupying their homes.
The Northern Ireland Assembly will consider the Welfare Reform Bill in March. It is expected to become law in June or July.
The CIH is now proposing an amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill that only introduces the bedroom tax for those under-occupying by two bedrooms or more.
Grainia Long, CIH chief executive, said: “CIH has raised repeated concerns about the bedroom tax – and we have called for changes to the NI Welfare Reform Bill that reflect the different housing circumstances here, particularly with regard to under-occupation.
“While we know that many households across the UK will be hit hard by the bedroom tax, these figures show that Northern Ireland will have a much bigger challenge dealing with under-occupation in terms of the numbers of people affected. This is compounded by the particular profile of social housing and the fact that new development has focused on family homes in recent years. There are simply not enough smaller homes for people to move into. So the vast majority will have to stay put and lose what for many will be a vital part of their income.”
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Dungannon
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 10 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 6 mph
Wind direction: South east
Temperature: 8 C to 15 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: North