THE so-called “bedroom tax” has left thousands of North-East social housing tenants wanting to downsize - but unable to move because of the region’s chronic shortage of small homes.

An investigation by The Northern Echo has found a surge in demand for one and two-bedroom properties since the benefit cut came into force on April 1.

Evidence is also emerging that some of those affected by the Coalition Government's spare room subsidy are already running into money problems less than a month after its introduction.

According to research by the National Housing Federation (NHF), about a third of the 50,000 claimants in the region affected by the so-called bedroom tax want to downsize.

However, only a handful of smaller social housing homes are available for rent, meaning most claimants have no choice but to pay the "tax", sign up to an unsecured tenancy in the private sector or try to fill their spare rooms with lodgers.

Cestria Community Housing Association, based in Chester-le-Street, County Durham, has 396 properties under-occupied by one bedroom and 122 under-occupied by two or more bedrooms.

But in one week, they had just a single one-bedroom property and two properties with two bedrooms available to let.

Redcar and Cleveland-based housing association Coast & Country calculates that it has more than 1,800 working age tenants who are under-occupying and receiving housing benefit.

However, at present it has just two one-bedroom homes empty and available to let. The association has 357 single bed properties on its books, of which about 30 usually become empty each year.

Officials have calculated it would take the housing association 37 years to rehouse all tenants liable for the housing benefit cut.

Research by the NHF found that around a third of social housing tenants in the region affected wanted to move, a third said they wanted stay in their home and a third “buried their head in the sands”, according to Monica Burns, NHF North-East lead manager.

Staff at Broadacres Housing Association, based in Northallerton, have noticed a rise in demand for two-bedroom properties since April 1, although managers say they - unlike associations elsewhere in the region - have enough smaller homes to cope with the surge.

The organisation has hired three new staff, including a money adviser, to work with around 500 of its tenants affected.

Hambleton District Council housing officer Helen Fielding said the authority had seen a “significant increase” in requests for discretionary housing payments from tenants struggling with their finances since April 1.

The "bedroom tax" means a cut of 14 per cent for one unused bedroom and 25 per cent for two or more bedrooms for housing benefit claimants.

The Department for Work and Pensions said it was not fair for people for people to continue to live in homes that were too large for their needs.

A spokesman added: “We are giving local authorities an extra £155m this year so that they can help their vulnerable tenants through the housing benefit reform."