HOUSING association bosses today (Tuesday, February 26) attacked the controversial bedroom tax as a "South-East solution to a problem which does not exist in the North-East".

From April the Government will introduce a new rule which will reduce housing benefits for anyone of working age who is living in social housing who has spare bedrooms.

Tenants who refuse or can not move to smaller properties face a cut in housing benefit ranging from 14 per cent for one extra bedroom to 25 per cent where there are two rooms.

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The under-occupancy charge is an attempt to deal with overcrowding and pressure on housing in the South-East.

But speaking at a 'tenants summit' in Billingham to co-ordinate opposition to the benefit cuts, two North-East housing association bosses criticised the Government for "London-centric policies".

Angela Lockwood, group chief executive of the North Star Housing group, which owns and manages around 3,000 homes in the Tees Valley, said: "This is very much a Southern-based policy to tackle overcrowding but the North-East doesn't have an overcrowding problem. We don't have houses packed to the rafters as they do in the South."

She said the imposition of the bedroom tax was "a one stop, one size fits all approach, which is unfair."

Iain Sim, chief executive of the Coast & Country housing association, which owns and manages 10,000 homes in Redcar and Cleveland, said: "The housing situation in the North-East is totally different from the South and we have to take that into account. There just isn't an overcrowding situation caused by under occupation."

Mr Sim said the attendance at the tenants summit, which saw around 80 representatives from 19 different housing associations across the region cram into a meeting room, had "exceeded our expectations."

He said it was important to knock down the myth that the people affected by the bedroom tax were all receiving generous benefits.

"The tenants here today object to this rhetoric of strivers versus skivers because a lot of people affected by the bedroom tax work and are on low incomes."

The Northern Echo: Angela Lockwood
Angela Lockwood

A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions said: "We need to ensure a better use of social housing when over a quarter of a million tenants are living in overcrowded homes and two million are on the waiting list."