NEARLY 300 south Essex council tenants are in line for bedroom tax windfalls totalling £214,000.

A loophole in the Government’s welfare reforms means long-term tenants of Southend, Basildon, Castle Point, Rochford and Thurrock councils could each be given back at least £640 in housing benefit, taken from them because they had spare rooms.

Hard-up tenants with empty bedrooms lost as much as a quarter of their housing benefit under the controversial Government measure, However, when the rules for last April’s changes were drawn up, bungling officials forgot to alter regulations affecting certain tenants.

As a result, claimants whose claim has not changed since before 1996 may well be in line for refunds this June.

One such tenant, disabled Leigh man Tony Livermore, 58, has been told he could get enough back to pay his rent for two years.

Mr Livermore has lived all his life in his three-bedroomed council house in Kent Avenue.

However, he has lived there alone since the death of his parents and his brother.

He said: “It was a ridiculous idea in the first place and I didn’t think it would work.

“It’s discrimination against people who live in council homes.”

Whitehall has now written to councils, alerting them to the mistake and insisting new regulations will be briought in later this this month to close the loophole.

Claimants with disabilities or special circumstances were helped financially via discretionary housing payments from some councils if they could prove they needed to keep their spare rooms.

Some of these claimants will not only get a refund, but may well also be allowed to keep the extra payments.

Ian Gilbert, Labour prospective Parliamentary candidate for Rochford and Southend East, said: “This shows the bedroom tax was not thought through.

“It was rushed through as another way of penalising the poor and vulnerable.

“If some people are going to get a refund, that’s good, but the whole policy should be scrapped.”