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Has bedroom tax caused housing trust's lettings struggle?
PERPLEXED housing chiefs say there has been an enormous and unaccountable drop in the number of people in need asking for trust homes.
Managers at Weaver Vale Housing Trust say they are baffled because of the 8,000 people on the housing register only 2,000 people are actively asking to be considered for available properties.
Prime residences that they would expect to attract 60 bids, or expressions of interest, are only attracting a handful of bids, if any.
Jackie Hodgson, the trust’s housing manager, said: “We’ve gone from having say 60 bids for a prime property in Tarporley or Leftwich to four or five or even just one bid for a three-bedroom house.
“If we’ve got an allocation policy saying there are 8,000 people in need but three quarters of those people aren’t bidding then how much in need are they? Or is it that we haven’t got what they want?”
Gill Fozard, PR and communications officer for the trust, said: “You read all the time in newspapers that there’s a shortage of housing but we have got very well looked after housing with support from Weaver Vale Housing Trust officers and you wonder why we can’t let them, we can’t quite get to the bottom of it.”
The team speculates it could be down to a number of reasons.
These include changes to the housing register, the impact of bedroom tax, the effects of the recession or the difficulty in accessing online information.
Jackie said: “There are a number of things going on and we wonder if people have just given up.”
In a bid to make sure its properties are occupied the trust has taken the unusual step of starting to advertise to the wider community on Rightmove.
“If we advertise properties the usual way and can’t let them we can’t have them empty,” Jackie said.
“People on a low income that may have looked at the private sector can come to us.
“Under the current policy they may not have a housing need but if they can’t get on to the first ladder of home ownership and private rented is too expensive then what about considering a trust property?
“We would never have considered putting a property on Rightmove in the past and we’re only doing that once there’s no takers on Trust Homechoice.
“We don’t really want to go down that line but we can’t let them and don’t want them empty.”
Bedroom tax appears to be one of the main reasons behind the drop as it is the trust’s three-bedroom family homes that are most affected.
This tax was introduced to encourage people to downsize.
People in receipt of housing benefit are assessed for the number of bedrooms they actually need and benefits cut accordingly, so it costs residents to have a spare room.
Jackie said: “We have a lot of people with one or two children, they’re on the register, but they can’t bid for a three-bedroom home because they can’t afford the bedroom tax.
“If you’re on housing benefit in any way then you’re affected by Bedroom Tax, even if you’re working but on such a low income that you need a top up from housing benefit.”
Sue Donovan, re-housing manager, said: “In the past a family with a child and one on the way or with two children, a boy and a girl, we would give them a three-bedroom home.”
Two-bedroom flats are also an issue as they are not ideal for families but a single person or couple would be hit by bedroom tax because they would under-occupy the property.
Jackie said: “Government policy is that best use of stock is not having spare rooms, but it’s not best use of stock if that means the properties are empty.”
A new Trust Homechoice Housing Allocations Policy also came into force in west Cheshire in October when Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWAC) took over the housing register.
This restricts the housing register to people in housing need with a local connection and excludes more residents for housing related debt or anti-social behaviour, among other changes.
People in need of social housing have to register with Trust Homechoice online at trusthomechoice.co.uk before they can bid on properties, which Weaver Vale Housing Trust staff say could put some people off.
Gill said: “If it’s a case of people not understanding the new policy we can help and if they’re too frightened to go on the website then we can discuss that with our partners.
“At the moment we haven’t got enough feedback.”
Trust Homechoice is made up of Weaver Vale Housing Trust, Plus Dane Group, Chester and District Housing Trust and Cheshire West and Chester Council.
To register with Trust Homechoice visit trusthomechoice.co.uk or ring 0300 123 2442.
If anyone has any feedback about why they are on the housing register but not bidding for trust properties ring Jackie Hodgson on 01606 813405 or Sue Donovan on 01606 813429.
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