Council’s hands tied over benefit cuts

Crawley Borough Council would not be acting within the law if it did not introduce cuts to housing benefit, a town hall meeting has been told.

At a meeting of the full council on Wednesday (December 12), councillors came in for a grilling on the subject from a packed public gallery.

Debbie Simmons, of Northgate, and Christine Watson, of Three Bridges, expressed fears about the consequences of reducing the benefit for people of working age who are ‘under occupying’ – who have one or more spare bedrooms.

From April 2013, tenants with one spare bedroom will see their benefit cut by 14 per cent while those with two or more will lose 25 per cent.

Ms Simmons asked members: “How do you think people are going to make up the shortfall? Are you going to evict them or force a stranger into their homes?”

Her comment related to a council suggestion that tenants with a spare room take in a lodger to share the bills.

Her sentiment was echoed by Ms Watson who referred to the change of rules as a “bedroom tax” and added: “I can’t bear to think about having a stranger living in my home. Is the council going to build smaller homes for us older people to move into?”

Responding to the concerns, Cllr Richard Burrett (Con, Pound Hill North), pointed out that the change to the rules had been set out by central government.

He added: “We would not be acting within the law if we carry on as we are. We have to make these changes, it’s a simple fact.”

Regarding the building of new homes, he added: “Yes we will build. Not as much as we would like to as we don’t have the land but, as a council, we are back in the business of building homes.”

Cllr Burrett admitted that it was “very unlikely” that every tenant wishing to downgrade to a smaller home would be able to do so.

Miss Simmons added: “I can fight my corner and make it strong but there are women out there of a weaker disposition who cannot do so and this is terrible for them.”

Labour leader Cllr Peter Lamb (Lab, Northgate), said: “We now see a human face for what the government’s policy is going to do. It’s disgraceful and will have disastrous consequences.”

And Cllr Bill Ward (Lab, West Green) criticised the council for not opposing the government’s decision.

He said: “While Cllr Burrett says there is no choice, you are not really making an argument to say you do not like this legislation.”