Almost 700 Plymouth people hunting for smaller homes to beat bedroom tax
MORE than 600 city residents are hunting for smaller houses to avoid being penalised under the Government's new benefits rules.
A crackdown on "under-occupancy" in social housing – the so-called bedroom tax – has created a surge of demand on the Devon Home Choice register.
But a shortage of suitable houses has meant there are 677 tenants waiting to be given a smaller property.
Welfare reforms have seen council tax benefit cut for more than 16,000 Plymouth families. And about 2,000 households face cuts in housing benefit because they are considered to be under-occupying social housing, according to a report from Plymouth City Council.
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In April this year the Government introduced changes to the welfare system which saw all councils cutting the amount of benefits paid.
The main impact has been on people of working age who claim housing or council tax benefit.
Under the new rules 16,024 households in Plymouth have seen on average a reduction in council tax benefit of £4 a week.
Changes to housing benefit, dubbed the bedroom tax, have also seen a cut in support.
A reduction of 14 per cent affects 1,688 households under-occupying their property by one bedroom.
Another 356 households under-occupying their property by two bedrooms or more have their housing benefit cut by 25 per cent.
Residents who are affected can choose to remain with a reduction in housing benefit, or move to a smaller property.
There are currently 5,117 one-bed properties in Plymouth, but with an average of 13 becoming available each week the city cannot plug the gap created by the Government's policy, a council spokeswoman said.
A third reform puts a cap on the total amount of benefit working age claimants can receive. This will see 130 households having their benefits reduced by up to £150 a week.
Cllr Chris Penberthy, the Cabinet member for co-operatives and community development, said: "It has already been three months since the changes have been implemented and there are many individuals and families struggling to cope."
The council is now planning to host events aimed at those claiming carers and disability allowances.
Council departments have seen an increase in customer enquiries since the changes came into effect.
Contact to the housing options team increased by 84 per cent between April and July compared with the same period in 2012.
Cllr Mark Lowry, the Cabinet member for finance, said: "It's pretty obvious that these forced changes are having a damaging effect on people's lives and we are doing everything we can to help support them."
"We will also be encouraging housing developers to create more smaller-sized properties so that we can meet the demand our city requires."
Drake councillor Steve Ricketts, the Conservative spokesman on communities, said: "We have one of the greatest welfare systems in the world and will always look after people in need.
"But the huge welfare budget has to be reduced. We need to ensure that getting a job is the best way forward for the family."
He said social housing was there to help people, and those living in homes that were too big needed to downsize, use the rooms or expect to pay more.
"There are thousands of people in Plymouth who need homes.
"If it's your own property you can do what you want, but if it's a council house you have got to be looking to help other people."