By Daniel Hunter

Nearly one in three council housing tenants affected by the bedroom tax have fallen behind on their rent since its introduction earlier this year, according to new figures released by False Economy.

Figures provided by 114 local authorities across Britain in response to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests by False Economy show that since the bedroom tax was introduced this April, over 50,000 council housing tenants - 31 per cent of all tenants affected by the tax in these areas - have been pushed into arrears.

However in some areas the proportion of tenants that have been pushed into arrears is far higher. In Barrow, three-quarters of all council house tenants affected by the bedroom tax have been pushed into arrears since April.

The data measures the impact of the bedroom tax over the first four months of its operation. But with emergency funding from councils rapidly drying up, the situation is likely to get far worse over the coming months, warns False Economy.

The bedroom tax, introduced under the Welfare Reform Act 2012, penalises council housing and housing association tenants if they have a 'spare' bedroom by reducing their housing benefit by 14 per cent or 25 per cent, depending on the number of spare bedrooms.

Those affected have included disabled people who currently use 'spare' rooms for their carers to sleep in or to store their equipment. Other affected tenants have offered to move but are unable to be re-housed as smaller properties are not available for them to move into.

A recent report from the Local Government Association, carried out by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (CESI), found that less than a quarter of welfare recipients will be in a position to mitigate reductions in benefit payments by finding work or moving to cheaper accommodation.

The bedroom tax, combined with other social security changes as cuts in tax credits, falling real wages and high unemployment, is forcing many already hard-pressed families even deeper into debt, says False Economy.

False Economy is concerned that as only one in ten local authorities who responded to the FOI request have any form of 'no eviction' policy, many thousands of families risk losing their homes as a result of the bedroom tax.

The figures show that:

- 76 per cent of affected council housing tenants in Barrow have fallen into arrears since the bedroom tax started.
- Clackmannanshire, Tamworth and South Kesteven are the next worst affected areas. Over half of all affected council housing tenants have fallen behind on their rent since the bedroom tax was introduced.
- Across the sample of local authorities that responded to FOI requests over 50,000 council tenants have fallen into arrears since the tax was introduced. The total number of affected council tenants across Britain is likely to be far higher.
- Evidence is also emerging of problems in housing associations, with social housing providers in Knowsley reporting a doubling in the number of arrears cases among bedroom tax households.

"These figures show once again the predictable chaos that has resulted from the hated bedroom tax. Together with the raft of other benefits cuts the government has forced through both this year and previously, the bedroom tax is driving tenants and families who were just making ends meet into arrears, and pushing those who were already struggling with the cost of living into a full-blown crisis," Campaign Manager for False Economy Clifford Singer said.

"At a time when the government is actively trying to stoke a new housing bubble for purely political ends, we have people being punished for the lack of affordable housing and the decades-long failure to invest in social and council housing. The worst part is that these figures have been collated while councils' emergency Discretionary Housing Payments are still available; they are being used up at record speed and when they run out, these figures will only get worse."

TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: "The cruel bedroom tax is hitting hard-pressed households who are in real need of help. As the tax takes effect disabled people who need space for their carers and families who have nowhere else to move are being put at risk of debt and homelessness.

"The bedroom tax is not saving money. Instead it is pushing up rent arrears which will force councils to waste more cash on evictions, debt collection and emergency support for homeless families.

"The bedroom tax has also exposed the scale of the UK's housing crisis as councils up and down the country are unable to provide suitable accommodation for tenants affected by it. But rather than help those in need, the government has decided to punish them, with many now threatened out of their homes.

"It says a lot about this government's commitment to fairness that they've blocked a mansion tax for millionaires but are happy to go ahead with a bedroom tax on disabled and low paid families, no matter how much chaos and misery it causes."

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