TENANTS of four Gwent housing associations who were hit by changes to housing benefit now owe more than £190,000 despite previously making the rent, the Argus has learned.

Research conducted by Jessica Morden, MP for Newport East, found that 940 social landlord tenants with associations that cover Newport and Monmouthshire have fallen behind with payments since the so-called bedroom tax came in.

The figures cover rent owed by tenants whose housing benefit has been cut according to how many spare rooms they have in their homes, and who had kept up with rental payments before the changes.

The UK Government argues that the changes will encourage people to downsize to smaller properties, free up space for others and help cut the overall housing benefit bill.

More than 3,000 tenants are thought to be affected by the bedroom tax in Newport and Monmouthshire.

According to figures from Ms Morden Newport City Homes saw arrears rise by £164,984 among 692 residents whose housing benefit was cut and didn’t previously have problems with meeting the rent.

At Charter Housing 178 tenants were similarly affected, facing arrears of £18,536.51.

Some 70 tenants hit by the bedroom tax fell into arrears worth £8,556.20 at the Monmouthshire Housing Association (MHA).

Figures for the number of tenants affected weren’t available at Melin, but the housing association told Ms Morden’s office that bedroom-tax affected residents had fallen into arrears of £5,369.

Jessica Morden, MP for Newport East, said the “tax” is pushing social landlord tenants over the edge.

She said: “So far, housing associations are taking the financial hit, but that cannot continue forever. It seems this terrible tax will not only mean homelessness will go up, but it will also weaken the financial ability of housing associations to reinvest in upgrading their houses and buying new homes.

“Ministers have argued that those affected would be able to find the extra money, these figures starkly show this is not the case.”

A Newport City Homes spokeswoman said the association has a support team to offer advice and guidance to residents which can help with downsizing options and advice for tenants experiencing financial difficulties.

MHA said it has “many mitigation projects” into place in order to support tenants through welfare reforms.

Kathryn Edwards, director of Charter Housing said the association welcomed the Welsh Government’s recent announcement of dedicated funding for provision of smaller homes for social rent.

Melin chief executive Mark Gardner said: “We are monitoring the situation very closely and working with partners to make sure that information and support is available to all those who need it.”