The ‘bedroom tax’ will lead to the break-up of rural communities who are bearing the brunt of benefit cuts, a leading rural network has warned.
Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) says the Government’s under-occupation charge for social housing tenants will force people to leave the villages where they grew up.
The charity says a dearth of one and two-bedroom homes in the countryside means rural tenants have no choice but to move into towns and cities if they cannot make up the rent shortfall.
“ACRE is calling on the Government to make a rural exception to the bedroom tax for social housing tenants who simply cannot find a suitable, smaller home in the local area."
ACRE claims the Government failed to ‘rural proof’ the penalty, which cuts the benefits of tenants of working age in homes deemed to have spare rooms.
It is backing the call by the Commons Committee for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to exclude settlements of fewer than 3,000 people from the charge.
ACRE, the umbrella body for England’s 38 rural community councils, surveyed its members to assess the impact of the tax, which cuts housing benefit by an average of £14 a week.
Chief Executive Janice Banks said: “The Department of Work and Pensions forecast in its impact assessment that the policy could have a greater impact on rural areas because there are fewer appropriate size homes available locally.
“Yet it went ahead with a blanket approach which will inevitably force rural tenants out of villages where they have lived for years, taking them away from their extended families, schools and support networks. It will take key workers away from areas where they perform vital roles.
“The bedroom tax takes no account of the challenges rural tenants face. Those who stay put and try to make up the shortfall are likely to be already struggling with the high cost of living in rural areas. Research shows it costs £2,700 a year more to live in the countryside than it does in a city.
“Local councils can give extra help to those struggling to meet housing costs, but these payments are only temporary. Social housing providers are facing mounting arrears from tenants who are unable to find the additional payments.
“Those who look for alternative accommodation in the private rented sector face an uphill task. There is a dearth of one and two bedroom properties in the countryside and market rents are traditionally high.
“ACRE is calling on the Government to make a rural exception to the bedroom tax for social housing tenants who simply cannot find a suitable, smaller home in the local area.
“A recent report by the Commons Committee of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said settlements of fewer than 3,000 people should be excluded from the charge and we wholeheartedly back this call.
“Our fear is that the accumulated changes in benefits, including Universal Credit, cuts to council tax support and the bedroom tax, will make it even harder for poorer people to remain in rural areas.
“It is yet another example of the ‘rural penalty’ paid by countryside communities. The Government needs to take heed of Networks such as ours who understand the unique challenges faced by rural communities.”