Caerphilly Council tenants have been forced to pay out an extra £2.1 million in rent since the ‘Bedroom Tax’ came in – almost £1,050 each.
The removal of the spare room subsidy, labelled the ‘Bedroom Tax’ by those opposed to it, came as part of the UK Government’s welfare reform in April 2013.
It means those receiving housing benefit who are seen to be ‘under-occupying’ have their housing benefit cut.
The figures, released after a Freedom of Information request by Plaid Cymru, show 2,061 tenants have shared the £2.1m benefit cut between April 2013 and October 2014.
Plaid Cymru’s parliamentary candidate for Caerphilly, Beci Newton, said the ‘Bedroom Tax’ should be “scrapped as soon as possible”.
She said: “These figures show the devastating impact on many council tenants, who are being asked to pay more rent, while struggling to meet their energy and food bills.”
Caerphilly MP, Labour’s Wayne David, has spoken out against the ‘Bedroom Tax’ in the House of Commons.
He said: “It’s the most iniquitous policy that’s come from the ConDem Government, it’s an unfair tax that’s bearing down on those tenants that are least able to pay.
“I’ve brought attention to an elderly couple who are both blind and had to pay the tax and have had constituents who have had medical equipment in a bedroom that’s been designated as a spare room.
“The sooner it’s scrapped the better and with the General Election approaching it will be one of the main issues of Labour’s campaign.”
The figures only show the impact upon council tenants and not those in other housing who have had their benefit reduced.
They come as the Auditor General for Wales warns changes made to housing benefit are “having a significant impact on Welsh councils, housing associations and tenants”, with tenants in arrears rising by 23% in the first six months of the ‘Bedroom Tax’.
The Auditor General, Huw Thomas’ report says councils and housing associations have done little to increase smaller housing, meaning tenants are having their benefit cut despite being unable to downsize.
Councillor Colin Mann, leader of the Plaid Cymru group on the council, said: “We said that the ‘Bedroom Tax’ would hit tenants very hard and we have been proved right.
“For many people there is not the suitable alternative accommodation for them, leaving people having to find additional money to pay their rent.”
The changes have meant Caerphilly County Borough Council have had to employ four extra support staff, costing them £109,000.
A council spokesperson said the local authority gives advice on the changes, additional benefits available, applications for Discretionary Housing payment and energy saving in a bid to help minimise the impact of the ‘Bedroom Tax’.
Its work has been recognised by the Citizens Advice Bureau with a recent award for the creation of its team to help deal with housing issues brought on by benefit cuts.
Councillor Gerald Jones, cabinet member in charge of housing, said: It’s an unfair tax that targets people who are already suffering hardship and the sooner it’s scrapped the better.
“If people want a smaller home, to not have to pay more rent they have to move from one community to another, when we are trying to establish communities not break them up.
“The council have to implement the legislation but the cabinet and all members are keen to see the council doing all they can to help mitigate the circumstances people find themselves in.”
Shelter Cymru has also warned of the cost of welfare reform on tenants, as social housing repossessions hit a seven year high last year.
Almost 1,000 tenants lost their homes, but private tenants are also at risk with nearly 2,200 repossessions in Wales across all tenures.
John Puzey, Director of Shelter Cymru, said: “Last year was particularly tough for social tenants, many of whom have suffered due to changes in welfare benefits and the rising costs of living.
“While some landlords are working hard to help tenants make the most of their income, others are failing to put support in place and are rushing to court far too quickly.
“We are hearing that some have started charging rent in advance from new tenants, forcing families into debt right from the outset of their tenancies.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “Ending the spare room subsidy was absolutely necessary to get the soaring housing benefit bill under control, return fairness to the system and make better use of social housing stock. Every day the policy saves taxpayers over £1m.
“We have given Caerphilly almost £740,000 extra funding to support vulnerable people that may need extra help and there has been a 9% fall in the number of people in Caerphilly affected by the policy, as some tenants take action.
“We have also provided Caerphilly Council with a further £163,000 to help with administrative costs of housing benefit reforms.”