A FAMILY who are hundreds of pounds in arrearswith rent on their Basildon Council house because to the bedroom tax can keep their home.

Teresa Whitby, 59, appeared at Basildon County Court onFriday and agreed to payoff £948 arrears in weekly instalments, but said it would leave her family “penniless”.

She must pay £5 a week, which means the arrears will take three and a half years to clear.

Dozens of anti-bedroom tax campaigners demonstrated outside the court during Friday’s hearing in support of Mrs Whitby.

In the borough’s first bedroom tax-related case, Basildon Council had applied to evict her because of her rent arrears.

However, the court ruled Mrs Whitby should not be ordered out, but should instead be given a suspended possession order, allowing her to stay, provided she pays a certain weekly amount.

Mrs Whitby was told she must nowhave to pay her weekly £101 rent, plus £5 a week in arrears, until the debt is paid off.

It is believed she will also be allowed to pay off £226 court costs awarded against her in weekly instalments beginning from April 22.

Between them, Mrs Whitby and her husband, Bill, 62, get just £112 a week jobseeker’s allowance.

After the hearing, she said she would struggle to provide for her familywith so little spare money.

Mrs Whitby, who also shares her three-bedroom house in Quendon Road, Basildon, with her son, said: “We just haven’t been treated fairly at all.

“We will really struggle to get by now, especially since our rent has gone up from £97. We have to hit every deadline, or we will be brought back to court straight away and could be issued with 28 days notice to leave our home.”

The Government’s bedroom tax policy cuts housing benefits to social housing tenants ruled to have an empty room in their homes.

The Government has claimed the aim is to encourage tenants to move to smaller properties, freeing up bigger homes for families.

However, most of the 15,000 Basildon tenants penalised by the bedroom tax have no hope of moving and avoiding benefit cuts because of a lack of smaller properties into which to move.

Mrs Whitby said her family has struggled to cope since they had lost £15 of their weekly housing benefit payment.

She said about half the rent arrears were down to the loss of this cash.

She added: “I don’t want to have anything to do with this council. I would love nothing more than to sever all ties with it, but I am not in a position to do that.”