A SHORT supply of homes in rural Cotswolds could force thousands of families on benefits to lose £780 a year on average because of a new "bedroom tax".

From next April, working-aged people living in homes with more bedrooms than they need will have to downsize or see deductions of up to 25 per cent in their housing benefit.

The Government initiative called the Housing Needs Assessment will aim to save around £500million, free-up larger properties for those living in overcrowded homes and create work incentives for people who live off housing benefits.

An estimated 30,000 households will be affected in the South West, with an average reduction of £15 a week.

But in rural Cotswolds, where houses are limited, many say they will not have the luxury of being able to downsize locally.

Single mum Mel Gaskin lives with her five-year-old son Jacob in a three bedroom house in Cirencester, is set to lose 14 per cent of her benefits. She said the wrong people were being targeted by the scheme and it should look instead at the large number of over-60s living alone in three-bedroom homes.

"There are people who have this attitude 'but I've lived there for 20 years' but I don't think they realise the affect, the widespread need for larger houses," she said.

Under the changes, any adult or couple under the age of 60 will only be entitled to one bedroom.

Children under the age of ten will be required to share a room with one other child of any gender and children under the age of 15 will be required to share a room with one other child of the same gender.

No extra bedrooms will be allowed for foster children or those who stay with parents as part of shared access arrangements.

On average, one unoccupied bedroom will cost householders 14 per cent of their benefits, and two or more unoccupied bedrooms will set householders back 25 per cent.

Social housing landlord Bromford Housing is currently working with Cotswold District Council to find out the extent of the problem in the Gloucestershire region.

Wiltshire Council’s most recent figures indicate that of 30,000 homes in receipt of housing benefits, around 2,893 will be affected by the new rules, with 437 of those by two or more bedrooms.

A report by the Department for Work and Pensions, updated in June 2012, admits that those in rural areas will be hardest hit because of the shortage of available properties.

However, it states that action is needed because Government expenditure has nearly doubled over the past decade, from £11billion to £21billion in the last financial year.

Darrin Gamble, head of neighbourhoods at Bromford Housing, said: "In some circumstances we have wanted to offer families choice to have the room to grow and create sustainable communities but times have changed."

Speaking at a Chesterton Community Project meeting last week, Bromford Housing representative Simon Taylor said people would be caught out by "severe penalties" if they did not act quickly.

"Some people are burying their heads in the sand, which will make it difficult to move in time," he said. "I don't think you will find anyone in social housing who supports this policy, but it is not up to us."

For more information on the changes go to bromford.co.uk for details.