PEOPLE who have been hit by the controversial “bedroom tax” could be owed hundreds of pounds by the government because of a loophole in the charge.
The under-occupancy charge was introduced in April, 2013, and has seen tenants in social housing have money deducted from their housing benefit if they are in properties deemed too big for their needs.
But in January, the Department of Work and Pensions revealed a mistake in the way the legislation was drawn up meant those who are of a working age and have occupied the same home continuously since January 1, 1996, should have been exempt from the charged, dubbed the “bedroom tax”.
The DWP, which is expected to close the loophole in March, has instructed local councils to identify those affected and refund them the money which has been deducted since the charge was introduced.
Grandmother Sharon Smith is one of the people in Bolton who will receive a refund.
The 55-year-old has lived in a three-bedroom house in Exeter Avenue, Tonge Moor, for the past 26 years.
She said: “I was very happy to hear I will be getting my money back. I have given my forms in to Bolton Council, so I will have to wait and see.”
Ms Smith, who relies on disability benefits because she suffers with depression and anxiety, said she has paid £200 in under-occupancy charges on her Bolton at Home property, adding that she “couldn’t afford to pay any more”.
She said: “This is money I need to live — I currently live with my 15-year old granddaughter but I need the third bedroom because I regularly have my other grandkids to stay at weekends.
“I have not been happy with the bedroom tax at all — I have been threatened with eviction from what I consider my home, where I have been for 26 years.”
The DWP confirmed the regulations would be “rectified” in March.
A spokesman said: "We expect very few people to be affected by this issue and we are working closely with councils so claimants are informed if it will affect them.
“From March and for those who continue to under-occupy, the reduction will be re-applied from this point. Housing Benefit claimants should therefore continue to consider how they will meet their rent shortfall if they live in property that is larger than they require.”
Bolton’s trade unions believe that rather than working to close the loophole, the government should abolish the policy.
Bernadette Gallagher, branch secretary of Bolton Unison said: "We simply cannot wait until the 2015 General Election to end the unfair and unworkable bedroom tax."
Bolton at Home, which owns and manages more than 18,000 houses in the borough, said it has not yet calculated a figure of how many residents may qualify for the loophole — but expects to have identified people within a couple of weeks.
A spokesman added: “We’ll write to everyone who we identify. In the meantime, we encourage our customers to phone us on 01204 328238 if their tenancy started before 1996 and they have received housing benefit without any breaks since this time.”