We all know that money is tight but for thousands of social housing tenants things could be about to get even tighter.  Changes to housing benefit which come into force on 1 April 2013 mean about 80,000 people in Yorkshire and the Humber region will lose hundreds of pounds a year if they are living in a house that the government says is too big for them.

Tina Heron, from Barnsley, expects to be one of those to fall foul of what’s being dubbed “the bedroom tax”. She and her husband are both disabled and their two-bedroom bungalow has been specially adapted for their needs.

They have lived in the property for 15 years, but now their 23-year-old son is leaving home and if they cannot make up the shortfall in benefits of £11 a week they will have to move out.

Mrs Herron said: “I just don’t know that we would find another place to live that is suitable for this and then we wouldn’t get the same adaptations grants that we’ve had for this place because having an extra bedroom is not a criteria for needing to move house.”

‘Reform necessary’

All social housing tenants living in a house with more bedrooms than they are entitled to will be affected by the changes, not just those who are disabled.

Because most of Yorkshire’s social housing stock was built on a template of three bedrooms, rehousing people who cannot afford to stay put will be a major headache for providers like Barnsley’s Berneslai Homes.

Its chief executive, Helen Jagger, says informing their tenants is a massive job.

She said: “We’ve got 3,000 households who are going to be affected by these changes and the majority of them are actually under-occupying by one bedroom so from April of next year they’re going to lose about £11 from their benefits.

“We’ve got 300 of that 3,000 who are actually under occupying by two bedrooms and they’re going to lose maybe £22 to £24 pounds a week from their benefits.”

Pat Heath, from Barnsley’s Citizen’s Advice Bureau, said there was a degree of uncertainty and confusion over the changes.

“Many people have never heard of the bedroom tax or the cuts in disability living allowance or the changeover of many of the benefits systems, so we’re aware that many people in the community are not really aware of what’s coming at them.”

The government says reform is necessary to stop the benefit bill spiralling.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “It’s right that we ask tenants who are living in homes that are larger than their needs to make contributions towards their rent or move to more appropriately-sized accommodation.

“The facts are that in England alone there are around five million people on the social housing waiting list and over 250,000 tenants are living in overcrowded conditions. We need to ensure social housing stock is used properly.”

So the idea of a council house for life is no more and people in social housing will be expected to up and downsize as their life changes, as long as waiting lists allow.

BBC By Danni Hewson