By David Wiles, Swindon Advertiser May 30th 2013

A CAMPAIGN group has collected 1,200 signatures in a petition against the reduction in housing benefit for social housing tenants, which came into force last month.

Claimants of working age deemed to have one spare bedroom, lost 14 per cent of the benefit (on average £12 a week) and those with two or more spare bedrooms lost 25 per cent (on average £21.81 a week).

Swindon Tenants’ Campaign Group started a petition before the change came into force, calling on Swindon Council to press the Government to repeal what critics have dubbed the bedroom tax, and to make a commitment not to evict tenants in difficulty as a result.

And the group is confident it can gain the 1,500 names needed to force a debate about the issue at full council later this year.

Secretary Martin Wicks said: “The response to the petition has been very positive.

“Far from the presentation of the shirker in the media, the majority affected are on housing benefit because of the loss of their job, an accident, illness, or a disability.

“Most have worked and paid their taxes over the years.”

A council spokesman said of 1,095 households affected by the benenfit cut, half are in rent arrears, although of that half, about one third were in arrears before the bedroom tax came into force.

The spokesman said it would not know the true level of arrears which can be attributed to the under-occupancy changes for a number of months.

Between April 1 and May 26, 82 council tenants received a Discretionary Housing Payment, the majority of which will be reviewed after 18 weeks.

A further 82 households have downsized to avoid the cut.

The Government says the measure, part of the Welfare Reform Act, aims to free up housing space for the most needy and reduce welfare spending.

Mr Wicks said: “Tenants are being scapegoated for a housing crisis which is the result of selling off homes on the cheap and refusing to build new ones.”

Coun Russell Holland, the cabinet member for finance, said: “I don’t think the Government will change course but that’s going to be a decision for full council following the debate.

“So far as evictions are concerned, the only way we can continue to invest in housing stock is continue collecting rents.

“We can make additional discretionary housing funds available to tenants affected by the changes. I would hope people won’t get into arrears, but I think a grant system is better than a selective arrears policy.”

To help with the petition call 07786 394593, email stcg@ btinternet.com or visit http://www.keepourcouncilhomes.wordpress.com