AN Inverness dad has launched a campaign to make people aware of “bedroom tax” cuts to housing benefits which he fears will leave thousands of people homeless.
Graeme Gair’s Facebook web page attracted more than 800 followers in just over a week and he has also made a YouTube video outlining his story.
From next April, housing benefit will be cut for working age households who have spare bedrooms.
But Mr Gair who is an Albyn Society tenant living in Castlehill Drive, Inverness, feels the only way he will be able afford to pay rent is to find a one-bed property – but this means his three children will be unable to visit him.
Mr Gair (42), who has lifelong mental health issues meaning he cannot work, explained: “If I stay where I am, my benefit will be cut by 25 per cent. If I move to a two-bedroom property, it will be slashed by 14 per cent which I still can’t afford.
“My only option is to move to a one-bed house. Apart from anything else they are very scarce, but if I do find one it means I will no longer be able to have my children to stay.
He explained: “I have three children, one of whom is special needs. He is highly stressed at home, but the one place he is at peace with himself is when he’s with me. He really thrives.
“Because I have three children, I was given a three-bedroom property, in accordance with the housing society’s policy at the time. However, these reforms will make it impossible for me to stay where I am. I will be forced from my home.
“I really fear for the wellbeing of my youngest. I believe it will be detrimental to his health. I also fear for the impact it will have on my wellbeing.”
He added: “We need to humanise this issue, people’s lives and wellbeing are at stake. I have set up the Facebook page and made the YouTube video to raise awareness of this. Not enough people know this is happening. A year from now people will be forced to move from their properties.”
And the dad claims that Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the treasury and Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey MP, has made a blunder by telling him that the changes won’t affect him.
Mr Gair said: “Mr Alexander wrote to me saying the cuts only affect people who rent privately and not those in social housing, but that is wrong. I have now requested a meeting with him.”
However, a spokeswoman for Danny Alexander said: “The letter Danny sent to his constituent following a telephone enquiry to his office sets out the changes that have already been made to housing benefit, in terms of the overall weekly cap of £400 and the link between housing benefit and the local market for those that are renting privately. Everything in the letter was factually correct.”
The changes to housing benefit have also left some housing agencies concerned.
Bob Pettitt, head of care and support at Cairn Housing Association, said: “Cairn HA is busy planning for these changes and keeping tenants informed and supported, but there is no doubt these reforms by the UK Government will have a serious impact on some tenants’ personal finances and on the overall income to the association.
“We are concerned the changes take no account of the availability of smaller properties locally for people to move to. It means that tenants affected by the change may have to find the money to cover the shortfall in their rent if they do not have the option of moving.”
He added: “This autumn we will be working with the Department of Work and Pensions to identify our customers affected by the changes so we can contact them directly to provide further information, advice and support.
“We expect these changes along with others occurring to welfare benefits and tax credits by the UK Government will mean many working age tenants may face financial difficulties in future.”
Calum Macaulay, chief executive of Albyn Housing Society, said: “We fully appreciate the affects these profound changes to welfare and housing benefits will have on many of our tenants.
“After lobbying our local MPs we are disappointed the UK Government has implemented these changes to the system. It certainly appears the UK Government does not understand the challenges faced across the Highlands and Islands and we are working hard and alongside colleagues across the social housing sector in Scotland on behalf of rural areas to ensure our tenants are well housed within sustainable communities.
“Our Tenancy Sustainment team exists to provide advice on housing benefits and to help tenants facing difficulties to review the options available to tenants. They can be contacted on 01349 852 978.”