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Tenants ‘downsize’ to avoid paying fee
EMPTY council houses have cost the authority around £150,000 which campaigners claim has been largely caused by people downsizing to avoid paying the under-occupancy tax.
Despite Swindon Council having a waiting list of more than 15,000 people for a council home, it has been revealed that 422 properties were empty Between April 1 and Sep 30, compared to 362 during the same period last year which is a 16.2 per cent increase.
This is costing the authority thousands of pounds through lack of rent and from fixing up homes once tenants move out.
And compared to this time last year the authority has racked up rent arrears of an extra £100,000 with £534,000 being owed in 2012 contrasted to £649,000 in 2013.
A petition calling on Swindon Council to lobby the Government to scrap the fee – which has been dubbed the bedroom tax – is going before councillors at next week’s full council meeting.
The petition, which is being brought by Swindon Tenants Campaign Group, is also appealing to the council to not evict people who cannot pay the extra fee.
Brian Shakespeare, who is a member of the campaign group, said he was appalled to hear that properties were sitting empty while so many people were waiting for a home.
“Rent arrears have rocketed,” said 73-year-old Brian, of Ferndale Road.
“People are downsizing to privately owned properties, which have extortionate rates, to avoid paying the extra tax.”
He said this will cost the borough more money as it was not only losing out on cash from rent but was also having to pay extra for people’s housing benefits.
“People are absolutely desperate,” added Brian.
“From this petition we want tenants to know that they have someone on their side. People have said they feel very alone and ashamed of not being able to pay their rent.”
Coun Russell Holland, cabinet member for finance, successfully lobbied the Housing Minister to use a small proportion of its Housing Revenue Account to top up its Discretionary Housing Payments to help those tenants who are struggling financially.
“Like with any policy there are advantages and disadvantages to them,” said Coun Holland. “The priority of the council is to do the best it can to help people.
“Nobody wants to see evictions, but we do need to collect the rent – it is expected that people will pay their rent. Anyone facing difficulties should contact the council immediately to have a discussion.”
Brian is appealing to people to attend the council meeting at 7pm on November 7 at the Civic Offices.
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