Changes to Housing Benefits Come In

Ministers are insisting the benefits system will be ``fairer'' as a result of reforms taking effect from this month.

That's despite Campaigners saying the changes will hit the poorest the hardest.

660,000 social housing tenants deemed to have a spare room began to lose an average £14 a week in what critics have dubbed a ``bedroom tax''.

It is part of a package of significant welfare and tax changes coming into force this month.

Birmingham, Worcester, Warwick, Stafford, Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury are among areas across much of the West Midlands that will see changes to council tax benefit.

This could mean bills for an estimated 2.4 million households in the country rise an average £138 a year with two million paying for the first time, an anti-poverty group said.

The system has been handed to town halls to operate from today but with 10% less funding.

On April 6, working-age benefits and tax credits will be cut in real terms with the first of three years of maximum 1% rises - well below the present rate of inflation.

Two days later, disability living allowance (DLA) begins to be replaced by the personal independence payment (PIP), which charities say will remove support from many in real need.

Labour claims the impact of the measures and other coalition policies have left the average family almost £900 a year worse off.

Writing in the Telegraph, Chancellor George Osborne and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: ``Our changes will ensure that the welfare state offers the right help to those who need it, and is fair to those who pay for it.

``In reality, we are just restoring the original principles of the welfare state: that those who can work must work, and a life on benefits must not be more attractive than working.''