Benefit changes see council tenants rent arrears rise

Janet Mandeville
Image caption Janet Mandeville said going into arrears "made me so ill"

More than a third of council tenants in Cornwall affected by an extra charge for spare rooms are already behind on their rent.

Figures obtained by BBC Radio Cornwall revealed rent arrears were on the rise following benefit changes in April.

The government says the under-occupancy charge is designed to free up housing stock and no-one is forced to move.

Cornwall Council said it was not easy to ask people to move to smaller homes because of a limited supply.

Cornwall Housing - the council's arms-length housing company - reported that 370 of its 962 tenants currently affected by the spare-room subsidy had gone into rent arrears since April.

'Lucky ones'

Janet Mandeville, 51, one of the tenants who was going into arrears, said: "The worry of it made me so ill.

"I was in hospital with stress. At the end of the day I would rather be happy and healthier somewhere else."

Mrs Mandeville got help with her debts through a discretionary housing payment from the council, but she said she was "one of the lucky ones".

She is swapping her two-bedroom home on a Truro estate for a one-bedroom flat a quarter of a mile away.

Cornwall Council Cabinet member for finance Councillor Alex Folkes, said: "There simply isn't that huge supply of houses to move into.

"If there isn't the smaller property with the special adaptations, if they need them, in their local community, it's very difficult to ask people to move."

A Department of Work and Pensions spokesperson said: "We are giving councils £150m this year so that they can help their vulnerable residents and we are monitoring this spending closely to ensure support goes to those who need it.

"The spare room subsidy changes will bring fairness back to the system - when in England alone there are nearly two million households on the social housing waiting list and over a quarter of a million tenants are living in overcrowded homes."

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