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28 February 2013, 16:25
MPs in the North East are being urged to ensure there's a rigorous evaluation of the impact of the Government's "bedroom tax''.
Housing association Riverside has written to MPs to ensure the Welfare Reform Bill is fully scrutinised.
Under the reforms, due to come into effect on April 1st, families considered to have too much living space by their local authorities will receive reduced benefit payments.
Families will be assessed by the number of bedrooms they need.
The change affects council tenants and those who rent from housing associations.
Riverside has written to all MPs in constituencies where it has more than 50 homes.
The housing association, which owns or manages around 50,000 homes, estimates that nearly 7,000 of its tenants will be affected by the bedroom tax, losing £5 million per year in housing benefit.
Constituencies in the North East most likely to feel the full force of the reforms include Gateshead and North Tyneside where 26% and 25% of Riverside households will be affected respectively.
Hugh Owen, director of policy and communications at Riverside, said:
"We are very concerned about the impact of benefit cuts on our tenants and the business, having campaigned against a number of aspects of the Welfare Reform Bill as it went through Parliament.
While the Welfare Reform Act is now on the statute book, there are still changes the Government can introduce to help mitigate the impact including undertaking a comprehensive review of the policy.
We are asking MPs for their support in ensuring that any evaluation is undertaken quickly, independently and thoroughly. It also needs to be sufficiently broadly scoped to consider the financial impact of the policy, its impact on individuals and the wider neighbourhood impact.''
Riverside is trying to mitigate the impact of the reforms under its B!G Changes campaign and is targeting those at risk to explain their options, including seeking to downsize, take in a lodger and 'stay and pay'.
Riverside also has an 11-strong Money Advice Team who provide telephone and face-to-face advice to tenants, helping them maximise their income, reduce their outgoings and deal with debt.
Between April and December 2012 the service secured more than #1 million in unclaimed benefits and reduced rent arrears by more than £130,000.