Thursday, 4 July 2013

Bedroom Tax, a failing policy

By Cllr Jenny Matterface

So, Iain Duncan Smith says the bedroom tax is ‘working’.

Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by ‘working’. The original aims were, firstly, to reduce the level of housing benefit paid to those who received it.  Secondly, to reduce the amount of overcrowding due to those living in larger houses than the government feels they’re entitled to rent being encouraged to move out to enable others to take over the property that may have been their home for many years.

The former may be working but rent arrears are mounting in some areas because tenants now receive their benefits directly rather than the rent being paid to the landlord. Both the reduction in benefits and the need to budget, possibly for the first time since being on benefits, has meant difficult choices for many.

Having housing benefit cut by £14 or more per week takes a hefty chunk out of anyone’s income. I’ve been told that some tenants pay every bill possible by direct debit and just live off what’s left. No wonder the demand for food banks has risen dramatically in recent weeks.

Why is the bedroom tax failing? The second aim was to encourage tenants with a spare bedroom to move out and make way for those in over-crowded houses. Has it worked? Apparently not.  To judge by my own ward to date only three households from an eligible 40+ have asked for a move. Whether they are successful will depend on whether those in smaller houses wish to ‘trade-up’ to a larger property with a higher rent.

So far as I can gather those affected have made the decision that, rather than uproot their family, they’ll manage as best they can and find the extra money from their already squeezed income. I have worries that some may fall into the hands of unscrupulous loan sharks or ‘payday’ loan companies with the high interest rates levied.

I’ve been asked why pensioners are exempt from the bedroom tax and also why those in privately-rented properties who are affected by a housing benefit cap, aren’t affected by the bedroom tax and can stay in their homes provided they keep paying their rent. Their housing benefit may be capped but there’s no penalty, so far, for those with an extra bedroom or two.

As one resident told me ‘We’re being penalised for being social housing tenants’. I represent disabled tenants who need the extra room to enable their partner to get some sleep when sleep may be hard to come by. Family members working away from home or who are students coming back regularly, need somewhere to sleep. What about children with a health issue who may not be able to share a bedroom? Their  needs have to be considered. The list is endless but the blanket rules don’t seem to allow any flexibility.

Is the system working? It seems not. All it has done is create worry for tenants especially those with a serious medical condition or who want to give their children the privacy of their own space in their own bedroom. It’s squeezing incomes of the poorest and often most vulnerable in our society and has left families in over-crowded homes unable to ‘trade up’ if they feel they could afford to do so.

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