THE devastating impact of the bedroom tax can today be laid bare in Worcestershire - with hundreds of people in mounting debt and at risk of losing their homes.
Your Worcester News can reveal hard-hitting data showing:
- 738 households have been stung by it in south Worcestershire and of those, a staggering 62 per cent are piling on debt
- Just 32 people have moved house, one of the lowest figures in the UK
- In Worcester 119 people have got into so much debt that housing chiefs have resorted to sending them "possession orders", a warning legal action could be taken to kick them out
- Fortis Housing, the biggest provider of social rented homes in the county, says it has people "slipping further and further into arrears" as a direct result of the policy
- Your Worcester News has spoken to people affected by it who say they are cutting out essentials like food just to get by
The findings come just two days after a new Government report suggested the bedroom tax, officially known as the spare room study, has failed in one of its key aims of moving people out of larger homes.
Since April last year social housing tenants get a reduced housing benefit payment for any spare bedrooms.
The reduction is 14 per cent for one bedroom or 25 per cent for two, with the householder asked to pay the difference or downsize.
Of the 738 residents living in Fortis Housing or Rooftop Housing-owned properties to be hit by it, 454 are currently in debt.
The homes are right across south Worcestershire including Worcester, Malvern, Pershore, Droitwich and Evesham.
The situation is so acute, bosses at Fortis have recently written to 119 persistent non-payers to serve them with Notice Seeking Possession (NOPS) orders.
It means they have to pay their escalating debts, which in some cases has climbed to hundreds of pounds, or face losing their home via court action.
Iain Harkess, head of operations at Fortis, said: "We knew the spare room subsidy would hit some of our customers very hard so right at the start we invested time, effort and money in helping them to understand how it would impact on them.
"Despite this, we still have many customers who are unable to meet the additional demand on their already strained budgets and as a result, are slipping further and further into arrears.
"We are doing all we can to support them through this and avoid the risk of them losing their home."
The Government report, released this week from the Department for Work and Pensions, showed how 59 per cent of those hit by the tax – 300,000 tenants – are in rent arrears nationally.
Only 4.5 per cent of the 570,000 hit by it across the UK have moved to a smaller property, a tally which matches that of Worcestershire.
'EVERY DAY IS A STRUGGLE' - WAR VETERAN HITS OUT
FALKLANDS veteran Doug Padgett, of Hathaway Close in Dines Green is just one Worcester victim of the bedroom tax.
The 57-year-old has one spare bedroom in his flat, and as a single parent needs it so his daughter Connie, 14, can go over to stay.
He has refused to move out because he says he needs to have a room for her, and because of that has been in mounting debt.
His housing benefit was slashed 14 per cent last year and since then he's been making extra cutbacks to get by, but it hasn't stopped the debts.
His reduction meant he needed to find around £50 extra per month, and the debt had climbed to more than £250 before it was written off in April after a gift from the Royal British Legion.
But his debts have already kicked in again, despite an award of a discretionary housing award which has reduced his monthly deficit to around £25 a month.
"People ask me 'can you afford it' and my response is 'how can I afford not too pay'," said Mr Padgett, who is unemployed and now suffers from post traumatic stress disorder.
"I need this house for my daughter, she spends 50 per cent of her time with me so I must have that room.
"I have cut down on what I eat, that's the easy one - you can get bags of rice for buttons, but it's not very nourishing.
"It is difficult. I've been very fortunate because the Royal British Legion has helped me out and I've got a discretionary housing award, but I'm back in debt.
"It's about time people who run this country learned it's entirely possible to have a revolution."
Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has defended it, saying his department is "on track" to have saved over £6 billion by next April.
The Government also says just one fifth of people affected by it have asked to move to smaller homes, and that some of those in debt for rent arrears would have been so even without the spare room subsidy kicking in.
Worcester MP Robin Walker said: "I don't think the basic principle of it is wrong, people should not get extra subsidy for a spare room they are not using.
"There are families living in overcrowded accommodation that we need to help."