MORE than 1,100 people in York face losing a combined total of £800,000 this year through the controversial “bedroom tax” - as pleas for help from tenants soar.

The potential impact of the Government’s “spare room subsidy” on York has been revealed for the first time in a report which also shows the city’s rent arrears rose after new rules cutting benefits for those with extra bedrooms were introduced in April.

City of York Council’s analysis suggests the benefits of 1,138 people housed by the authority or social landlords could be cut by £802,056 during the tax’s first year, with tenants losing an average of £14.22 a week.

Between March and May, 236 tenants applied for discretionary housing payments, designed to help vulnerable people cope with the changes – a 340 per cent rise on the same period in 2012 and just 32 fewer applications than the whole of last year.

The York-based Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust (JRHT) said the forecasts – expected to fluctuate throughout the year – showed it was hard to see how welfare reforms could work without causing “severe hardship”.

This month, York launched a landmark strategy aimed at making York a poverty-free city, drawn up by organisations including The Press as our Stamp Out Poverty campaign highlights the city’s deprivation issues.

The report by the council’s benefits and partnerships manager, John Madden, and head of housing service Tom Brittain said York’s rent arrears were £679,000 at the end of May, a £67,000 year-on-year rise, with 128 more people behind with payments than in May 2012.

The authority has visited all tenants affected to explain options and offer advice, with its Homeswapper scheme helping people downsize by matching under-occupied homes with tenants needing more space.

It is offering incentives of up to £2,500 to help tenants move to smaller homes, while the York Financial Assistance Scheme has been set up to help those in financial difficulties.

Coun Tracey Simpson-Laing, cabinet member for health, housing and adult social services, said: “We are making a plea to anybody really struggling as a result of the benefit changes, including the bedroom tax, to contact the council for help and advice, which we are already providing for many of those affected.”

The JRHT said 43 per cent of social housing tenants are living in poverty despite paying lower rents.

A spokesman said the JRHT was visiting tenants to discuss options including downsizing, increasing their income or cutting living costs, while its housing allocation policy was prioritising tenants wanting to downsize and a budget was set aside to help with moving costs.