Housing bosses in Doncaster have pledged to allow residents to stay in ‘underoccupied’ homes - but they will still pay ‘bedroom tax’.
The news comes as it is revealed that the number of borough residents in serious rent arrears has more than doubled in the last year.
St Leger Homes has confirmed it will be allowing the 3,700 tenants who are affected to stay put and will work with them to try to help them finance staying in their homes through discussing budgeting.
Government benefit reform rules mean people who are living in a house with more bedrooms than occupants face a loss to their benefits. It would mean losing 14 per cent for one extra bedroom and 25 per cent for two extra bedrooms.
The firm, which manages Doncaster’s council housing stock, said it would continue to let people under-occupy due to the shortage of smaller houses.
In a statement, the company said: “St Leger Homes is in a similar position to social housing providers in the UK and has a stock of local authority housing which does not match the need in that we have a large number of families who qualify for benefit on two bedroom houses but we have more three bedroom houses.
“As a result we need to continue to allow some tenants to rent homes which have more bedrooms than they currently need, because if we did not do so we would exclude some people from the opportunity to live in certain areas of the borough.
“It would also be difficult for us to house people on the waiting list within a reasonable timescale. We are currently working to ensure we offer appropriate advice and assistance to people who apply for housing and are offered properties which are larger than their requirements. Applicants have the choice and are not obliged to bid for or accept housing which would impact on their income if they are in receipt of housing benefit.
“Some tenants choose to under occupy – for example because they look after a child for part of the week and want to have a bedroom available for them. If a tenant does choose to under occupy we carry out an affordability assessment to ensure that this will not put them in financial difficulty.”
Mark Tylor, a single dad who is in an under-occupied property in Intake, which is shared at weekends by his children, welcomed the news that people would not be forced to leave their houses.
But he said: “It’s all right the Government coming out with ideas like this, but what happens when there is nowhere for people to go? I know about people who have been panicking about this, and worrying about getting into debt. I feel as though I’ve been put through hell over this.”
Meanwhile, an official Doncaster Council report has revealed the number of people in serious arrears of more £1,500 on their council house rent has risen from 30 in 2011-12 to 87 in 2012-13. More people were evicted too, rising from 29 to 36 in the year to March.
Judith Jones, St Leger Homes’ Director of Housing Services, said the number of serious cases and evictions were linked and the ‘low’ number compared favourably with other similar organisations and the firm did pro-active work with tenants in helping them to address the underlying cause of their arrears.
She said: “We take the increase in the number of high level arrears seriously. We have found that increases in the cost of living of the necessities of life such as utility bills and basic food items have had an impact and have added to the difficulties in tenants making their rent payments. This is added to the complexity of people juggling various debts. In response, we have boosted the number of staff whose work is focused on providing support and assistance.
“We always make early contact with tenants who find themselves slipping into rent arrears and would urge anybody who finds themselves in this position to seek help from us at the earliest opportunity to ensure that we can help them to maintain their tenancy.”