The government’s bedroom tax will break up rural communities and choke their supply of large family homes.
These are the two chief findings from a snapshot survey of 38 ‘rural community councils’ by Action with Communities in Rural England.
Its study showed that rural locations typically lacked an adequate supply of one- and two-bedroom homes into which people hit by the ‘bedroom tax’ could downside.
Under this welfare reform, the government is abolishing its so-called ‘spare room subsidy’ from housing benefit when claimaints rent properties are considered to include more rooms than they need.
The change is controversial because it effectively dissolves the long-held principle that housing benefit should cover completely the cost of renting a home.
ACRE members told the grassroots group that the reductions were forcing residents to leave the villages where they had grown up.
The policy was also deterring authorities from boosting the supply of larger family homes in rural areas, a move which risked undermining the sustainability of rural communities.
Martin Hawkins, rural services officer at Action with Communities in Rural England, told LGC that the bedroom tax policy had put good planning practice at risk.
Councils were re-thinking plans to build large family homes in the light of the bedroom tax policy, responses to anecdotal evidence from the survey indicated.
Mr Hawkins said: “The idea of a sustainable rural community would be lost because when families get bigger they will leave.
“Although housing surveys identify a significant need for one- and two-bedroom units that often doesn’t work because it doesn’t allow for families who grow.
“Rural housing providers and local authorities recognise the need to build larger homes as well, such as three-bedroom units. This is completely accepted as good practice but the bedroom tax goes against that.”
Rural communities were also reported to lack sufficient smaller homes into which residents hit by the bedroom tax could move. “It is particularly impossible to dowsize in rural areas,” Mr Hawkins said. They can’t even move to the next village; the only opportunities are in urban areas.”
ACRE now plans to continues its research into the effect of the bedroom tax on rural areas. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, had expressed an interest in tracking its findings, Mr Hawkins said.
A spokesman from the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We work closely with departments across government to ensure policies don’t have a disproportionate effect on particular communities.
“As a result, last month we announced £5m extra funding for councils in rural areas, recognising the special circumstances that claimants in isolated communities can face.”