NICK Clegg has blamed local councils for any misery caused by the ‘bedroom tax’ – as he vowed to face down Liberal Democrat activists demanding a U-turn.

In an interview with The Northern Echo, the Deputy Prime Minister accused town halls of failing to spend – or even returning – Government cash meant to help people in trouble.

But the claim was immediately rebuffed by Durham County Council, which said it had calculated its £883,000 of ‘discretionary housing payments’ (DHP) would last just eight weeks.

Don McLure, its resources director, said: “Durham County Council has spent all of its DHP funding allocation in recent years and, since 2010, has in fact spent over and above the allocation from Government.

“We expect to spend all of the DHP allocation for this financial year, which amounts to £883,089.”

Speaking in Glasgow, Mr Clegg said he would defy growing calls to halt housing benefit cuts for tenants willing to ‘downsize’ but unable to move - because no smaller home is available.

That was the central demand in a motion passed overwhelmingly by this week’s Lib Dem conference, when the party faithful condemned the policy as “reprehensible and evil”.

But Mr Clegg insisted the U-turn was unnecessary because town halls had been given enough cash - £150m in total – to help hit by the removal of the ‘spare room subsidy’.

And, on halting benefit cuts for people unable to move, he said: “We can’t take that step until we know why councils - which have been given millions and millions of pounds to help exactly those people - don’t seem to have used it?

“What we are finding is that how that money is being used by councils varies wildly across the country.

“We need to understand why councils haven’t used the money we have given to them to do exactly what the motion called for.”

Mr Clegg pointed out that “several million pounds” of discretionary housing payments were returned by local councils at the end of the last financial year.

However, that was before the bedroom tax – a policy designed to save £500m and free up larger homes for families in cramped properties - was introduced, last April.

The move has penalised social housing tenants with spare rooms, cutting housing benefit by 14 per cent for an extra bedroom and 25 per cent where there are two.

Today (Thursday, September 19), the National Housing Federation will publish fresh research suggesting 51 per cent of residents hit by the bedroom tax were unable to pay their rent between April and June.

David Orr, its chief executive, said: “This is the most damning evidence yet to show that the bedroom tax is pushing thousands of families into a spiralling cycle of debt.

“What more proof do politicians need that the bedroom tax is an unfair, ill-planned disaster that is hurting our poorest families? There is no other option but to repeal.”