Preston’s bedroom tax problem will take at least 18 years to sort out, councillors have been told.
A shocking new report on the impact of welfare reforms in the city says it will take a generation to rehouse all tenants hit by the Government’s “under occupancy” levy and wanting to downsize to two-bedroomed accommodation.
“It is a very depressing picture,” said former city Mayor Bhikhu Patel, chairman of the Communities Scrutiny Panel which compiled the report after a thorough eight-month investigation into how changes to the benefits system are hitting Preston.
“A lot of people are affected and more and more are getting into debt.”
The report, presented to the council’s cabinet this week, reveals no-one has so far been made homeless for rent arrears caused by the bedroom tax.
But it warns that as the controversial policy begins to bite “tenant evictions may be necessary”.
Coun Patel said: “The homelessness issue has not come to the fore yet, but it is very early days.”
The report shows that after talks with the city’s housing association, Community Gateway: “It would take 18 years for CGA to rehouse everyone who only required two bedrooms as a result of the under occupancy rule.”
The multi-agency investigation was commissioned in April when the city council expressed concern at the changes to the welfare benefits system being introduced by the Government.
Councillors wanted to devise a strategy to tackle issues arising from it, including homelessness. Figures show that Preston is now receiving an average of 100 new housing benefit claims every week.
The caseload in October this year stood at 15,555.
On council tax arrears the report reveals that at the end of September, the council issued more than 9,000 first reminders to late payers and 3,134 summonses for non-payment - both up on the same period last year.
The council already has a range of initiatives in place to help alleviate suffering and is working towards the setting up of a credit union in Preston, although that is unlikely to be launched before spring 2015.
Coun Matthew Brown described the report as “an excellent piece of work,” but agreed with Coun Patel that it made “depressing” reading.
The economic situation was, he said, putting a lot of pressure on council services.
“We are trying to respond in many ways. Unfortunately people turn to pay day loans which only make things a lot worse.”
Coun Martyn Rawlinson added: “Our staff and officers were on to this very quickly as soon as we noticed what the implications would be.
“We are doing just about everything we can to mitigate the effect on people hit by these changes.”
And council leader Coun Peter Rankin said: “It is depressing. But I know our officers are working very, very hard to give as much support as they possibly can, along with the other agencies.
“It is really good that we are working together on this, because we have to these days.”
In the report the city’s corporate management team says: “The programme of welfare reforms set out by the coalition Government is comprehensive.
“While there is undoubtedly immediate impact on individuals and families as a result for these changes, the consequences are likely to manifest and be clearer over time.”