By Daniel Hunter

There is strong public support for reducing under-occupation and overcrowding in social housing, according to new independent research.

In a poll conducted by Ipsos MORI, 78% of respondents said they thought it was important to tackle the problem, which has led to nearly one-third of social housing tenants who receive Housing Benefit, living in homes that are too big for their needs.

In comparison, just 14% disagreed, with a further 9% undecided.

The polling also found that 54% agreed that it is fair that people of working age, who live in social housing, should receive less Housing Benefit if they have more bedrooms than they need.

The research has been welcomed by Minister for Employment Esther McVey.

She said: “This shows that the public agree that action was needed to tackle overcrowding and to make better use of our housing stock.

“There were approaching 1 million spare bedrooms being paid for by Housing Benefit, yet at the same time hundreds of thousands of families living in overcrowded social housing. This disparity was unfair and had to be addressed.

“On top of this we have seen our Housing Benefit bill exceed £24 billion — an increase of 50% in just 10 years — and this had to be brought under control.”

The study also revealed:

– that the majority of people — 54% — believe the coalition government’s removal of the spare room subsidy policy will encourage those receiving less housing benefit to improve their personal situation by, for example, finding work.

– 60% believed that those affected by the policy should either find new or alternative work, or work longer hours.

The new policy is aimed at those of working age who live in social housing and have their rent paid through Housing Benefit.

The initiative is starting to yield positive results, with people now taking the opportunity to downsize.

Paul Biggs lived in a two-bedroom flat on the Millbank Estate in Pimlico, London, for 30 years.

He had been living alone since 2003, meaning he had a spare bedroom.

But Mr Biggs arranged to swap his home with a couple who had a baby and needed more space.

Mr Biggs said: “I got in contact with them and we agreed to a mutual swap.

“We were both happy to move so it was a relatively smooth process: the staff at the housing office carried out some inspections, we signed the deeds and set the date to move.

“The whole process only took about 3 weeks to organise, so if you’re affected by the introduction of the spare room subsidy, don’t be worried that you’ll be caught up in red tape if you do want to downsize.

“I’m settling in nicely to my new home. I had a few teething problems with the boiler, but CityWest Homes fixed it quickly.

“I’m quite comfortable here and haven’t really noticed much of a difference since I relocated, apart from having a bit less space.”

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