WIRRAL'S housing chief fears private landlords could eventually overpower social housing as a result of the controversial bedroom tax.

Councillor George Davies said proposals to allow landlords to buy properties from their social counterparts could lead to a lack of state housing.

Government office the Homes and Communities Agency will consult on the plans in the autumn and, if given the go-ahead, would apply to all 2.4m housing association-owned homes in England.

But Cllr Davies says Wirral could be in danger of losing hundreds of social homes as it is revealed there are more than 300 empty three-bedroom homes as struggling families are forced to move into smaller houses.

The under-occupancy charge, or bedroom tax as it is known, was introduced in April and means that housing benefit claimants living in social accommodation have a proportion of their payment cut if their property is deemed too big for their needs.

And Cllr Davies said he receives regular calls from worried tenants who are finding it difficult to pay their rent each month.

He said: "We have got to the stage now where there are 300-plus vacant three-bedroom homes in Wirral because people can’t afford to pay the rent once their benefit is cut.

"The situation is going to develop even further because we haven’t got enough two-bedroom properties but they can’t afford to keep three bedrooms.

"This tax has been in place now for more than three months and I am receiving eight or nine telephone calls a day from people asking for help because they are struggling.

"And if the HCA proposals go ahead you can see how housing is eventually going to be completely privatised and you have to ask is this just a way of taking more stuff off the state and putting it into the private sector?"

Councillor Davies clashed last month with Conservative MP Esther McVey, government minister for the disabled, when he expressed concerns that the borough’s already-high homelessness figures could rise even further.

Miss McVey had accused him of "scare-mongering" and being an "alarmist."

However Cllr Davies claims the tax has had a "knock-on effect" on families in social housing who do not even claim benefits.

He added: "I spoke with a couple recently who have two young daughters.

"They cannot get a three-bedroom property despite them both working because the housing association is looking at the possibility of them, at some point, needing to claim benefits and so having to pay the bedroom tax.

"I just don’t think people fully understand exactly what this is going on here – there are people who have lived in their homes for 25 years and now their children have grown up and moved out, they are said to live in a house that's too big for them.

"I would urge anyone who is struggling to contact the council or their housing association."