'Benefits shake-up to cost me £1,300'
TENANT Susan Carbone faces a 'bedroom tax' bill of more than £1,000 for staying in her own home – despite asking council managers to relocate her 10 months ago.
The 53-year-old contacted Stoke-on-Trent City Council to ask for a smaller house in May after discovering she will lose 25 per cent of her housing benefit.
But the authority has fewer than 200 vacant one and two-bedroomed properties for the 2,300 tenants due to be charged for empty bedrooms in their homes and has so far not found a suitable alternative.
Ms Carbone is unable to work due to dyslexia and problems with her back and knee. Her only income is £168 a fortnight in employment support allowance.
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The city council is increasing rent by an average of 3.8 per cent from April, meaning the charge for her three-bedroomed house in Leason Road, Meir, will rise to about £78.56 a week.
Welfare cuts will see her housing benefit, which is paid direct to the council and fully covers rent, cut by 25 per cent – £1,021 a year from April.
At the same time she will be expected to pay 30 per cent of the £1,116 council tax charge on her house because of cuts to council tax benefit. It means she faces paying out £1,356 extra a year.
The former convenience shop worker, who has been alone in the house since both parents died in 2009, said: "I just won't be able to afford it. I have told them that I won't be able to pay the extra rent and they have told me that would mean I'd lose my house and they won't find anywhere else for me to go.
"I contacted the council in May and said I needed to move to a smaller place. They said it would be no problem, but even though I've asked them several times about empty properties they haven't offered me anything in the area.
"They've suggested moving to Newcastle or Longton, but I have told them I need to be close to Meir because my neighbour helps me every day with my mail and bills. I don't understand them."
Ms Carbone said empty small properties, including bungalows, are being given to young people, who have declared themselves homeless and in urgent need or are reserved for people aged over 55.
Neighbour Carole Griffiths, aged 53, said: "I read her letters and bills so she can understand them and help reply to them, it's important we stay close together.
"She's on her own and doesn't get a lot of money. Bills have gone up and she has to buy food. If they don't find her somewhere else she is going to be left with nothing."
The Government will charge working age tenants 14 per cent of their housing benefit for one empty bedroom and 25 per cent for two.
Council tax benefit will also be abolished from April with councils funded to offer discounts as an alternative.
Councillor Janine Bridges, cabinet member for housing, neighbourhoods and community safety, said: "We are working very closely with our tenants to make sure they understand the changes and that any relocation goes as smoothly as possible.
"To help with this, we have signed up to the Home Swapper scheme which enables people to exchange their home with another tenant so they have a property to suit their needs, whether it is a bigger or a smaller home."