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Benefit changes could see higher costs and more evictions, say MPs.

Byline: DAVID WILLIAMSON Political Editor david.williamson@walesonline.co.uk

CROSS-PARTY GROUP WARNS ON EFFECT OF 'BEDROOM TAX' CONTROVERSIAL changes to housing benefit could result in a rise in evictions and cost the UK Government more than it already spends, a cross-party report will warn today.

Housing benefit cost the taxpayer PS23.4bn last year but the public accounts committee will today caution that changes could see people fall into arrears and homelessness. The UK Government's plan to cut housing benefit for social tenants if there are unoccupied bedrooms in property - a policy denounced by Labour as the "bedroom tax" - is expected to have the biggest impact in Wales where the Department for Work and Pensions predicts 46% of claimants will be affected.

The committee - whose members include Aberconwy Conservative MP Guto Bebb and Blaenau Gwent Labour MP Nick Smith - has today published further concerns as the Government tries to save PS6.2bn by 2014-15.

Their report states: "At the time of the committee's evidence session, awareness of the reforms and their impact was worryingly low among those who will be directly affected."

It claims: "The department is relying on a 'wait and see' approach to identify the impact of housing benefit reforms, for example on homelessness. "The department does not believe that it can anticipate or model the impacts of the reforms as they depend on the actions claimants take in response to changes in their individual circumstances and local conditions."

The MPs warn "the costs of funding housing benefit could increase when social rents rise" and the "department does not seem to have thought through adequately the impact of its position on income from lodgers."

They add: "There is a risk that the introduction of direct payments of housing benefit to tenants living in social housing could lead to an increase in rent arrears and evictions."

Labour's Mr Smith said: "The DWP say the changes will deliver PS6.2bn of savings by 2014-15 but can't say what this will mean for the family receiving housing benefit or the public authorities who may have to deal with the consequences.

"As a result of the Government's failure on housing, rents are rising and becoming more unaffordable while people's incomes are squeezed.

"More people in work have to claim housing benefit as a result.

The number of people on housing benefit has risen under the coalition by 300,000 from 4.75 million to 5.05 million.

"This increase is entirely accounted for by people in work, rising from 650,000 to 950,000. The Welsh Labour Government, in contrast, has conducted a thorough analysis of the impact of the policy on Wales.

"The effects will be widespread.

Forty thousand households are facing the bedroom tax - nearly half of all workingage social tenants who get help paying their rent because of their low income.

"Wales will be harder hit than any other part of the UK.

"In the Valleys we have the highest benefit claimant rates not only in Wales but also in Britain so people have a right to know how their lives and their income will be affected."

He added: "Cuts in housing benefit could have knock-on effects for housing services if evictions and homelessness rise or rent arrears increase."

The Conservatives' Mr Bebb said the housing market was "dynamic" and the report was intended to pressure the Government to monitor and respond to the effects of its policies and "keep on top of the issues".

He said: "I don't think anybody would dispute the fact it's difficult to work out the exact impact these changes will have."

Mr Bebb added the report did not support "some of the scare stories" in circulation.

A DWP spokesman said: "Housing benefit almost doubled over the last decade to over PS23bn a year, so it's absolutely necessary that we get that spending under control.

"We are closely monitoring the reforms to ensure councils are informing people about the changes, and spending the extra PS390m we have provided to support their residents."

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 26, 2013
Words:672
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