WINCHESTER housing bosses have dismissed reports of a surge in the number of residents unable to pay their rent.

The Citizens Advice Bureau said social housing rent arrears reported to them from July to September 2013 increased by 70 per cent compared with the previous year (2012).

But Cllr Tony Coates, the city’s housing chief, said: “We have to recognise that the CAB is a national campaigning organisation, it’s a case of anything for a headline’, you might say.”

The CAB said it believes changes to council tax support and the Government’s spare room subsidy – or so-called ‘bedroom tax’ – are behind the problem.

But a report from council officers showed only a very modest rise in rent arrears, from 1.11 per cent of tenants in 2011/2012, to 1.2 per cent for 2012/13.

Richard Botham, the city’s chief housing officer, said: “We work closely with the CAB and push for our residents to engage with the CAB. But we have not seen a significant change. It’s more likely to be the impact on the private sector where there has been a rise.”

Cllr Tony Coates said that of the council’s tenants who are in arrears, most of them were in debt before the size criteria came in to place.

He told a meeting of housing bosses on Tuesday: “There was some impact, but it was not as dramatic as we thought it might be. Those who did drop into arrears when it came in to force have kept it in check.”

He said the council’s Wise Move scheme, which means tenants who downsize can claim £1,000 towards the costs of their move, is proving a success.

So far 52 tenants have downsized under the scheme, taking advantage of the incentive, and there are currently 61 tenants in consultation about downsizing.

Steve Brine, Winchester MP and principal private secretary at the Department of Work and Pensions, has previously defended the bedroom tax.

He said: “It’s being fair to the taxpayer who must meet the huge cost of our benefits system and ultimately helping people escape the cycle of welfare dependency.

“The spare room subsidy is part of that and I think it’s absolutely right we take action to help families, often with small children, living in overcrowded accommodation.”