CONTROVERSIAL changes to the benefit system have been handled well in Bury, according to a new report.

More than 650 cases relating to the so-called “bedroom tax” have been resolved successfully.

It came into force last April in a government attempt to persuade people living in non-private housing to move to smaller properties by lowering their benefits.

The under occupancy penalty scheme resulted in 943 families in Bury losing 14 per cent of their housing benefit and 589 families lost one quarter of their entitlement.

There were fears the policy could leave people in debt and result in Six Town Housing losing as much as £373,000 a year in unpaid rent.

But a team set up by the council and STH to help those affected seems to have averted a crisis.

The council report, which was presented last Thursday to Bury’s health and wellbeing board, says the team contacted 802 people affected and “successfully resolved” 656 cases.

Of those, 330 were given a share in £122,262 from a fund set up to help the most vulnerable people to pay their rent.

It reported 50 families in Bury had moved house and 18 others were planning to do so.

The report says: “This approach has been very successful and the impact on rent arrears has been very much contained.

“Of the customers affected, only 3.2 per cent are not paying their rent. This compares very well with other social landlords.”

The Labour-run council’s finance representative, Cllr John Smith, said: “The government’s draconian welfare reforms are hitting the poorest and most vulnerable people in our borough and many of them are being hit by several benefit cuts at the same time.

“The council recognises the affect they can have on people’s heath and wellbeing.”

Bury Conservative leader, Cllr Ian Gartside, said: “The team seems to be managing the changes well by using money devolved from central government.

“I believe the fund remains under subscribed in Bury so the help continues to be there for those who need it.”

The leader of Bury’s Lib Dems, Cllr Tim Pickstone, said: “The policy was introduced to tackle a major housing problem in this country, meaning that many thousands of families are having to live in inadequate accommodation.

“What we dont want to see — and for me, this is a worry with the subsidy — is that people experience financial hardship as a result of the changes.

“It is great to see that in Bury the team have worked well to help so many people and achieve a satisfactory outcome.”