Controversial changes to housing benefits have affected more than 1,000 residents across the Fylde coast and seen them lose hundreds of thousands of pounds in benefits, new figures have revealed.
Social housing groups Blackpool Coastal Housing, Regenda – the largest provider in Wyre – and New Fylde Housing, the equivalent in Fylde, say they could also lose out after the changes – dubbed the ‘bedroom tax’.
They were introduced by the Government in April, aimed at freeing up under-occupied homes.
Since then, families deemed to have too much living space received a reduced housing benefit payment, meaning they have to pay some or more rent.
And according to figures released for the first time since the new scheme was introduced on April 1, changes to benefits have cost Wyre tenants £320,000, Blackpool tenants £283,192 and Fylde £135,000.
Despite tenants struggling to afford their rent, 40 per cent of the 222 affected Fylde tenants chose to stay in their homes. And Darralyn Jackson, regional services manager for Regenda, said: “Of those 414 people affected by the Bedroom Tax 60 per cent said they would stay and pay the difference, which is a different ball game when you have to try and find the money and there’s other reductions as well.
“Six per cent said they wanted to stay but couldn’t pay the rent and 16.7 per cent want to move.”
If tenants chose not to pay the extra costs, Regenda’s potential increase in arrears could reach £3.6m this year, New Fylde Housing £135,000 and Blackpool Coastal Housing £48,000.
Peter Jefferson, chief executive of Blackpool Coastal Housing, said: “It’s not been an easy task but since April we’ve managed to reduce the number of people affected to just under 400 meaning many customers that may have had to move no longer do.
“Some of our customers have also been referred to the council’s Housing Benefit Service to see whether discretionary payments can be made or other help offered.”
Bernie Keenan, executive director of Progress Housing, New Fylde Housing’s parent company, said: “The under occupancy housing benefit cuts have had a huge impact on a number of our tenants and we are doing all we can to help.
“Our efforts have been directed at speaking to our tenants to ensure that they understand if, why and how they may be affected by the benefit cuts and, if they are affected, what their options are.
“We have supported some tenants to apply for Discretionary Housing Payments while we have supported others to move to smaller properties to avoid the reduction in housing benefit.”