THOUSANDS of Barnsley families could be forced out of their homes next year when a bedroom tax that bills them for empty bedrooms comes into force.

The welfare reform overhaul will mean that people who have empty bedrooms will be docked cash from their housing benefits. Anyone who is classed 'under occupied' will be docked £11 for one bedroom and £20 for two as part of the change.

Households are ordered to either pay the extra rent themselves, get a job, take in a lodger or move to a smaller property.

Coun Joe Hayward says the move could force people out of homes they might have lived in for decades. He said: "I don't think people realise what a major affect this is going to have on people. People stand to lose their homes - and there's nothing we can do about it as a council.

"If you've got a child away at university, that bedroom is classed as empty, if you've got two kids who have their own room, you have to pay for the extra one.

"We've always said to people if you can't afford to buy your own house we will help you out with social housing - that is no longer going to be the case and this will affect peoples lives.

"This will cause absolute turmoil for families. Some will have to move out of their homes they have lived in for years if they are classed as under occupied. The home is the very root of the family and this is hitting people right in that."

Already, Berneslai Homes, which manages the councils' housing stocks has sent warning letters to 3,000 families who will be affected by the chage. Another 5,000 on the council waiting lists have also been notified.

But Coun Hayward says the council has another problem - because despite the fact the government advises families to move into smaller homes to avoid the charges, Barnsley hasn't got many smaller homes available.

He added: "We're facing major problems - if we have people living in two beroom houses that need to move to one bedroom I don't know what we will do with them.

"We knocked a load of one bedroom properties down as they didn't meet decent homes standards and weren't fit for purpose. Where are we going to put these people?"

"If we haven't got properties to move people in to they are stuck where they are and might be unable to pay their rent. It will go back to like it was in my day when you hid behind the sofa from the rent man. It's terrible."

The changes - which come into affect on April 2013 - clearly outline that couples who live together are only classed as needing one bedroom. If a spare bedroom is used by a child visiting at weekends, it is classed as vacant.

Under the guidelines, families are instructed that children under 10 are expected to share two to a bedroom - and children under 16 are expected to share with their same sex siblings.

Bob Cartwright, from Berneslai Homes, said more information will be sent out to tenants nearer the time of change. *UPDATED TO ADD: Due to request on our Facebook wall, we have obtained a copy of the letter sent out to residents. It is pictured below. *