MORE than 100 council tenants in the Stroud District have been plunged into debt as a result of the Government’s so-called ‘bedroom tax’, it was revealed last night.

Out of the 347 council tenants in the Five Valleys affected by the controversial changes to housing benefit, a total of 120 have fallen behind with their rent payments.

Stroud District Council has pledged to do all it can to avoid evictions and has already made emergency payments totalling £6,539 to help 33 tenants and their families remain in their homes.

Under the policy, introduced in April this year, housing benefit has been cut by 14 per cent for tenants who have one spare bedroom and by 25 per cent for those who have two or more.

Those who support the removal of the ‘spare room subsidy’ say the changes are designed to free-up housing for families currently living in overcrowded and cramped accommodation and are necessary to reduce the Government’s housing benefit bill.

However, opponents of the policy say a shortage of one and two-bedroom properties means tenants wishing to downsize often have nowhere to go and are suffering financial hardship as a result.

They also question whether the policy will in fact produce savings, pointing out that many tenants in receipt of housing benefit will be forced into the private rented sector where the taxpayer will have to pay more for their accommodation.

The revelation that 120 of Stroud District Council’s housing tenants had fallen into arrears came at a meeting of the authority’s housing committee last night (Thursday, September 19).

In announcing the figures, Cllr Philip Booth (Green) hit out at the changes, arguing that they were unfair and only likely to increase the Government’s housing benefit bill.

His sentiments were echoed by Brian Marsh (Lib Dem), who described it as a ‘stupid tax’ and Mattie Ross, the Labour chairman of the committee, who blasted the policy as ‘draconian’ and emphasised that SDC was working hard to avoid evictions.

“It is pretty clear to me that as long as people are working with us to see what we can do to help there will be no evictions,” she said.

But Cllr Gordon Craig (Conservative) said he wanted more information about why the 120 tenants had been unable to pay their rent.

“I’m concerned that some people who are in arrears are in arrears by choice because they may think that others will pick up the bill,” he said.

Former Tory leader Frances Roden also called for the committee to investigate why a third of tenants impacted by the changes were failing to keep up with their rent.

“We have had a very mature attitude towards evictions. We have never taken a punitive line in Stroud. I want to take the political rhetoric out of all of it because I really want to understand the impact of this policy,” she said.

“We need a better understanding about all the issues of why people are falling into arrears. Is it down to choice or is it because of the availability of properties?"