MORE than 230 people in Hampshire have been unlawfully charged the “bedroom tax” after a Government blunder, it can be revealed.

They are residents who have lived in the same local council or housing association property since 1996 – making them exempt from the measure.

However, they wrongly had hundreds of pounds of their housing benefit deducted, because they were deemed to have spare bedrooms.

All must now be refunded, after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) admitted tenants in the same home for more than 17 years should not have been hit.

Labour seized on the figures to warn the bedroom tax had descended into “farce”. And it accused ministers of misleading people about the blunder, having claimed only 5,000 residents would be hit nationwide, when the real figure was up to 50,000.

In Hampshire, the largest number of people affected is in Southampton (95), followed by Basingstoke and Deane (52), Eastleigh (38), New Forest (31) and Winchester (22).

That makes 238 – but the total is certain to be far higher, because other local councils have not replied to freedom of information requests.

Chris Bryant, Labour’s welfare spokesman, said: “The Government has been caught out trying to downplay how many people are exempted by it.

“At this rate the total will be nearly 50,000 households, each of them overcharged by an average of £640. That’s £3,072,000 that will have to be repaid.

“This would be a farce if it weren’t for the upset this has caused many vulnerable families and the huge cost to taxpayers.”

The removal of the ‘spare room subsidy’ – the Government’s term – cuts housing benefit by 14 per cent for one extra bedroom and 25 per cent where there are two.

Yesterday, the National Housing Federation warned twothirds of households hit by the bedroom tax had fallen into rent arrears – while one in seven had received eviction risk letters.

But housing minister Kris Hopkins said the figures were out of date and criticised “vulnerable individuals who are set in their ways”, who refused to move.

A DWP spokeswoman said the loophole was now being closed, so future long-standing tenants would no longer escape