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Labour councillors on warpath over 'bedroom tax'
7:30am Friday 22nd March 2013 in News
THURROCK’s top Labour councillors have expressed serious concern over changes to welfare benefit that come into effect at the beginning of next month.
A report put to Thurrock Council’s cabinet last Thursday explained the impact that the Government’s changes to the benefits systems will have on the borough’s residents.
One of the reforms, dubbed “bedroom tax” by opponents, aims to address issues of under occupancy in council-owned homes.
The report revealed 397 households in Thurrock are under-occupying their homes by two bedrooms or more, meaning those families will receive 25 per cent less housing benefit. There are 947 households under-occupying by one bedroom who will be entitled to 14 per cent less housing benefit.
Cllr Barbara Rice, pictured right, the council’s portfolio holder for welfare reform, described the changes as “absolutely disgraceful”.
She said: “I have very, very distressed residents. I think bedroom tax is absolutely disgraceful.
“We are having to say to residents after having their homes adapted that they have to move out or pay more. They are petrified.
“We’ve got case after case after case after case of this. That must go for all parties, not just the Labour Party who have a heart.”
Cllr Val Morris-Cook, the council’s portfolio holder for housing, pictured left, said: “People want to downsize but we haven’t got the properties available to do that.
“It’s a worry, there’s so much changing, but we’ve got to do everything we can. It breaks your heart some of the decisions we are being forced to make.”
Other reforms to the welfare system include council tax benefit being scrapped, with a local scheme replacing it on April 1.
This means the council will be billing for £1.3million more in council tax. The council has sent out letters to 7,500 people, and received replies from 500.
Cllr Phil Smith, portfolio holder for central services, said this means there are 7,000 people who believe this is not going to affect them.
He added: “The policy is meant to hit scroungers, but when we looked at it, most people are in work but doing jobs that are so low paid they are having to go to the state to get help.”
Conservative group leader Cllr Phil Anderson defended the plan though.
He said: "This is a good news story for the 5,000 people currently stuck on Thurrock’s council house waiting list.
“We all know of families struggling to bring up young children in small flats, while single people or couples whose children have long since left home continue to occupy large council houses at the taxpayer’s expense.
"There are around 1,400 council properties in Thurrock which are ‘under occupied’ by people claiming housing benefit. If all of these were able to downsize, that could reduce the waiting list for larger properties by up to two years.
“Of course there will be a few unfortunate cases where people are negatively affected, and the council must do all it can to help in those cases.”