ANYONE with an ounce of compassion will feel sympathy for Julie and Mark Bell, whose heartbreaking story is featured in today’s edition of The Northern Echo.

They have lost the daughter they adored and only those who have endured the death of a child will begin to appreciate what they are going through.

Becky died, aged seven, from a brain tumour. A year on, her bedroom is still kept as a shrine to her memory. It is part of the grieving process for her parents. To them it is still her bedroom, and it is where they keep her ashes.

But due to new benefit rules being introduced by the Government, her bedroom in the housing association property in Hartlepool is now classed as a spare room and is, therefore, subject to a “bedroom tax” which will cost the couple £56 a month.

When the story was highlighted on yesterday’s Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2, opinions were deeply divided.

Some sided with the family and called for flexibility in the rules. Others argued that, sad though this particular case is, the regulations have to be followed.

There is no doubt that the Bells’ case is genuine. But it is also the case that housing associations would set a potentially expensive precedent by making exceptions to the rules. How many other families would claim that spare bedrooms were shrines to loved ones?

Where would the line be drawn? And for how long?

It is encouraging that Housing Hartlepool has confirmed that it is proposing a “transitional discretionary fund” to help in unusual situations such as the Bells. Hopefully, a compromise can be reached which gives them more time to come to terms with the loss of their little girl.

But the bigger issue lies with the shortage of social housing in this country. When families are required to downsize to small houses when their circumstances change, will there be somewhere for them to go?

Britain needs more affordable houses – and building them will help stimulate the economy.