JUST one in every 50 tenants hit by the so-called 'bedroom tax' in part of the region have moved to a smaller home – imposing steep housing benefit cuts on the rest.

Only 21 of 1,009 households in County Durham - who were deemed to have spare bedrooms – have successfully ‘downsized’, since last year.

The remainder have lost up to 25 per cent of their housing benefit, under the strict new Government rules, unless they have been able to find jobs.

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In addition, 417 of those tenants have been plunged into arrears since the bedroom tax was introduced exactly 12 months ago.

Two other authorities that responded to a BBC investigation reported similarly figures for households moving home, in Richmondshire (3.7 per cent) and Harrogate (2.7 per cent).

Darlington (93), Newcastle (1,198) and York (267) reported large numbers of tenants in arrears, but were unable to say how many had moved.

The figures – suggesting six per cent had downsized nationwide - triggered fresh calls for a rethink of the controversial removal of the so-called ‘spare room subsidy’.

Furthermore, work minister Esther McVey admitted, for the first time publicly, that the Government had always expected most tenants to face benefit cuts.

Ms McVey said the official forecast was for only 30 per cent to find smaller properties, over five years. She argued that eight per cent had, so far.

Phil Wilson, Labour MP for Sedgefield, said: “The bedroom tax is in a cruel policy for saving money that should be scrapped now.

“It’s clear the Government always knew that people wouldn’t be able to find smaller properties, because there simply aren’t enough one-bedroom places. It was never going to work.”

The removal of the ‘spare room subsidy’ cuts housing benefit by 14 per cent for one extra bedroom and 25 per cent where there are two.

Ministers had argued that forcing ‘underoccupying’ households to move would free up larger homes for families living in cramped conditions, as well as save £465m.

But Ms McVey denied she was disappointed by the numbers, saying: “No, because it wasn't that you had to move house - that was one of the options.

“We were expecting over four or five years for maybe 30 per cent of people to move, so it shows really that we are on track.”

The measure had also saved taxpayers £1m a day since it was imposed a year ago, the department for work and pensions (DWP) said.

There was also a fresh Liberal Democrat revolt over the bedroom tax when Willie Rennie, the party’s Scottish leader, said it “should go quickly”.

But Nick Clegg refused to budge, while suggesting local councils will receive extra emergency funds to help pay for the arrears caused.