Monday, 18 March 2013

Northumberland Council rejects Labour claim over bedroom tax impact

by David Black, The Journal

Mar 18 2013

Bedroom tax protest (demonstration) at Grey's Monument, Newcastle
WARRING political parties are in dispute over the impact of the so-called bedroom tax in a rural county.
Labour has accused Liberal Democrat-run Northumberland County Council of “losing” 1,825 households in its calculation of how many will be affected by the looming change to the welfare system.
The council says the reform – which reduces the amount of benefit paid to council and housing association tenants with one or more spare bedrooms in their home – will affect 3,397 households in Northumberland.
But Labour says figures released by the National Housing Federation (NHF) suggest the actual number of affected households is 5,222.
The council insisted its data is correct and says it will be asking the NHF to explain how it arrived at its figures.
The Coalition Government’s welfare reform means tenants face a 14% benefit cut if they have one extra bedroom and a 25% reduction for two or more extra bedrooms.
Labour members in Northumberland say the NHF figures suggest there is a “black hole” in the authority’s calculations on the impact of the changes.

Labour leader Grant Davey said: “The council has lost 1,825 families, while it has been preparing for the impact of the bedroom tax. How can we have confidence that the council is ready for the tsunami of misery unleashed by this regressive tax?
“Leader Jeff Reid needs to get a grip on his council and come clean about the true impact of this raid on the living standards of people living in social housing.”
The NHF figures suggest that 1,355 households in Wansbeck will be affected by the bedroom tax, 1,335 in Berwick, 1,321 in Blyth Valley and 1,211 in Hexham.
The Federation says these are estimates, based on Department for Work and Pensions’ regional data, which assume the same proportion of tenants affected locally as regionally.
Coun Reid said the local authority was in the best position to calculate the true figure for households affected. “Given a choice between believing our finance director and a random national organisation, I would go with our officers every time.”
A council spokesman said: “In line with DWP guidance, we rely on the information given to us by landlords. We have also cross-checked our data with the housing associations, and no significant issues have been identified. To ensure our data is correct, and that any reduction is correctly applied, we have also written directly to affected tenants informing them of our classification of their property size.
“We have asked them to contact us should our information be incorrect.”
HUNDREDS of protestors against the Government’s "bedroom tax" marched through Newcastle and Durham at the weekend.
The marches, which saw people armed with banners and posters, were organised by think tank Labour Left and trade unionists, along with anti-cuts group the Tyne and Wear Coalition of Resistance (TWCR).
Tony Dowling, chair of the TWCR, said: "Bedroom tax is another attack on ordinary people by the Government.
"Instead of dealing with the bankers and tax cheats, they’re picking on ordinary people. We have to stand united against it.
"Austerity isn’t working, they’re just leading us into a triple-dip recession. Instead, we need a vast investment in social housing. The Government shouldn’t be targeting the vulnerable, the disabled, single mothers and the elderly and the like.
"Bedroom tax, like most of the cuts, has a particular affect in the North East. It’s more detrimental here that in other parts of the country." The new charges are due to come into force in April.

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