Gallery: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg defends ‘bedroom tax’ on visit to Colchester

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg MP talking to Simon Blaxill during the visit to Kent Blaxill, Layer

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg MP talking to Simon Blaxill during the visit to Kent Blaxill, Layer Road, Colchester. - Credit: Andrew Partridge

COUNCILLORS have reacted angrily after deputy prime minister Nick Clegg defended ‘bedroom tax’ on a visit to Colchester yesterday.

Mr Clegg was in the town for a short tour before meeting party activists ahead of the local elections in May.

During his stay he said the controversial policy, which will limit the number of rooms housing benefit will pay for when it is introduced in April, was necessary in order to cut welfare spending.

But his comments come a week after Colchester Borough Council voted to contact the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, with concerns the tax, or spare room subsidy as it is also known, is “unworkable”.

Speaking at the premises of Colchester building supplies firm Kent Blaxill, which celebrates its 175th birthday this month, Mr Clegg said: “We have a difficult journey to go through as a country. A quarter of what we spend goes on welfare payments and we need to look at how we can make savings.

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“This is not an easy decision but we have 1.8 million households on housing waiting lists and a million bedrooms not being used. We must make sure the people who need rooms get them.” Lib Dem leader Mr Clegg conceded there would be households that would struggle under the new rules and said the Government had made £155million available to local councils to support people in these cases. He added that the policy would be “looked at closely to see how it works in practice”.

But councillor Tina Bourne, who holds the portfolio for housing at Colchester Borough Council, said the policy would hit more than 1,000 low-income households in Colchester and put undue pressure on hard-up families.

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She said: “It may have seemed like a good idea on paper but it’s the wrong solution to freeing up housing stock. The extra charges could end up forcing households into rent arrears, with the threat of people losing their home – that is the most pressure you can put on someone.”

Labour councillor Ms Bourne said that Lib Dem councillors had unanimously voted for the policy to be reviewed. “They, like me, would have met with residents who are wondering how they will make ends meet,” she added.

But Lib Dem councillor Paul Smith, who met Mr Clegg and congratulated him on introducing an exemption for serving military families into the policy, said he agreed with the principles of the new rules but had concerns over how they were being implemented.

He said: “We asked for the policy to be reviewed because there are areas where it can be improved.

“For instance, it would make no sense to move people out of homes where considerable money had been spent adapting it.

“There are also cases where people need separate bedrooms because of medical reasons, and they should be looked at. Also, in some areas where there is not alternative accommodation to offer people, charging them more might not be fair.

He added: “We just feel the policy has to be thought through more.”

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