Westcountry pensioners could be hit with cuts to housing benefit
Westcountry pensioners could be forced to move into smaller houses under the so-called "bedroom tax" being introduced by the Government.
The new measure is part of the new universal credit scheme which is being introduced by the Government from April.
It means housing association and council tenants will have housing benefits cut if they are deemed to have spare bedrooms – 14% cut for one spare room and 25% for two – in a move designed to free up large housing.
Around 600,000 people nationally – and almost 10,000 in the Westcountry – are expected to be hit by the changes, which could amount to a £14-a-week cut in benefit.
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Pensioners were thought to have been exempted completely from the move. However, it is understood the exemption will end for new claimants in mixed-age homes after October.
Leaked guidance from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) states: "New housing benefit claimants who are mixed-age couples and claiming pension credit will not be exempt when they transfer on to universal credit."
Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne told the Sunday People, which uncovered the different status of new claimants, that the Prime Minister needed to "get a grip".
"Ministers promised to protect pensioners from the bedroom tax, but thousands are set to lose out," Mr Byrne said. "David Cameron had better get a grip fast, before this scheme descends into total chaos."
It proved more unwelcome news for pensioners in Devon and Cornwall already concerned with rising living costs.
It comes hot on the heels of Government plans to introduce a £75,000 cap on the cost of nursing and residential home care, but which does not include "accommodation" costs for bed and board, food or heating, with some estimating those costs could easily hit £150,000.
Pensioners' activist Bob Turner, from Exeter, said: "Pensioners are getting a shambolic deal all round. This is a generation of people which created the infrastructure of this country, the NHS, the roads and the railways, and yet they are just being cast aside."
But Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith stressed pensioners would not suffer because the application of the rules had yet to be finalised.
Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show, he said: "The reality is that they are looking at universal credit further down the road. It is not our intention that pensioners in any way will suffer."
He added: "This is not about punishing people. This is about trying to reallocate the housing. It is about getting the balance right."