Officials braced for flood of calls when bedroom tax bites
COUNCIL officers in Bristol expect to be swamped with calls from worried tenants when the new bedroom tax is introduced next month.
The council has sent out three letters to tenants explaining the changes from April 1.
They have also been urging people who live in council properties to come forward for advice.
But they are still bracing themselves with a flood of inquiries when their benefits are reduced.
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About 4,500 households in Bristol alone are expected to be hit by the new tax.
They will receive a cut in benefit if they are deemed to have one or two spare bedrooms in their home.
For those who under-occupy one bedroom, they will have to find an extra £12 a week while those with two-beds will be cut by £25 a week.
A raft of welfare reforms began last year with cuts in child benefit.
But those only affected families with a combined income of more than £60,000 and therefore not living on the breadline.
But the so-called bedroom tax is regarded as the first big cut in benefit which affects low-income couples and families.
The Government is introducing the measure to cut public expenditure and encourage tenants to downsize when living a home which is too big for them to help ease the housing crisis.
Members of the council's Quality of Life Scrutiny Commission were told yesterday that the number of affordable homes which are currently being built each year is 275, down from a peak of 600.
But the mayor George Ferguson has set a target of 1,000 a year by 2016/17.
Councillors were told that a programme of bringing empty homes back into use had helped to house more than 200 people who were considered vulnerable.
Labour Councillor Ron Stone said housing crisis could be eased by tapping into the city council's pension fund which was currently valued at £2.2 billion.
He said afterwards: "Borrowing £50 million for homes is a small beer for a fund of this size. It would provide an ethical investment with a good rate of return and create real jobs and apprenticeships."
He said there were council-owned sites in the city which would provide enough land to build 4,000 homes.
Councillors were told the pension fund was governed by a board of trustees who had to abide by a laid down set of rules.
They represent a wide range of public service workers who have now retired.