The 'Bedroom tax' one year on
The new rules for housing benefit introduced 1 April 2013 are probably the most unpopular measures brought in by a government since the Poll Tax. The Government said it was simply removing the 'spare room subsidy' which put social sector tenants in a better position than those in the private rental sector. But the 'under-occupancy' rules were quickly dubbed the 'Bedroom Tax', and the name has stuck.
In March 2013, Labour MP Frank Field urged people to 'brick up your doors, and knock down walls', hoping to revive the spirit of defiance in the 17th-century, when glass was replaced by brick in homes across the country in an attempt to avoid the hated 'window tax' introduced to pay for the Nine Years’ War.
So far, there hasn't been a wave of Edgar Allen Poe-style bricked-up rooms, but some housing associations have reclassified rooms as cupboards or offices. A more noticeable result has been a rise in rent arrears.
Blog: Unlocking Underoccupancy
Quids In Managing Editor, Jeff Mitchell, writes about the ways people can be stuck, even if they want to do as the Government suggests. Here
The effect on the tenant/landlord relationship
The Guardian reports that thousands of residents have been taken to court for arrears as council tax benefit cuts hit home. Read more
Inside Housing reports that housing associations say they won’t bid for £1.7 billion in grant funding if they are required to build small homes. Tony Stacey, chair of the Placeshapers group of 100 housing associations, said: ‘We aren’t going to build homes that are going to be difficult to let in five or 10 years just because of this government’s welfare policy." Read full story
At the moment, families have 52 weeks to downsize or pay up after the death of a member of the family. The National Bereavement Alliance says it has been warned this may be reduced to three months.
The Hollow family lost their son, 11-year-old Caleb, a year ago, as he crossed a busy road to catch a bus. Shortly after Christmas they received a letter telling them to pay or downsize. The Welfare Service reports.
A levy on grief: in his blog for The Guardian Michael Rosen, says that preserving his son’s room after his death was part of his grieving process, but it could have been denied, had he lived in a social home. Read more
Disabled people have complained that the rules don't take into account issues such as the fact that married couples cannot always sleep in the same room, or that the house may have been adapted for them, making it difficult to downsize.
24 Dash reports that of 779 homes assessed as being under-occupied in Wales, 74 have been specifically and in many cases substantially adapted for the needs of their tenants, at an average cost of £7,700 each.
As a result of the bedroom tax, almost half of these disabled households are now in arrears with their rent. Read more
The Swindon Tenants Campaign Group illustrates how the Bedroom Tax takes no account of the way family needs change as they have children, and those children grow up and need separate rooms. Read more
The homeless charity Crisis has dubbed a new development the 'occupied bedroom tax'. If young people leave their parents' home, the parents will lose 14% of their housing benefit through bedroom tax, but if an unemployed young person stays, they lose £68 per month of their Universal Credit. Read more
The Mirror has gone as far as to run a campaign against the Bedroom Tax. Read on
Mick Kent, boss of Bromford homes, is usually a supporter of Welfare Reform, but says the bedroom tax is unfair. Read Patrick Butler's Cuts Blog in The Guardian.
Labour's attempt to defeat the Bedroom tax in parliament failed, but the co-alition's majority was a slim 26 votes. Read on.
Housing benefit now allows for one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household, with the following exceptions:
Who can help?
The organisation provides a clear explanation of the rules, and signposts agencies who can help tenants who are worried about getting into arrears. See more
The Bedroom Tax loophole
The rules do not apply to people who have been claiming housing benefit continuously for the same home for the past 17 years. If any of your clients in this situation has had their benefit cut, their council owes them money. See Shelter's explanation here
Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Has produced a clear information sheet on the Bedroom tax. Click here
Discretionary Housing Payments
In exceptional circumstances, the Housing Benefit Office can provide support through the payment of Discretionary Housing Payments. These are a temporary measure and that word exceptional often means they are tough to get.
The BBC explains how the Bedroom Tax works here.
One suggestion from the Government is for tenants to take in a lodger. Flat-share website allows you to download their free Social Tenant’s Guide to Taking in a Lodger. Click here
Lets Help You
As a response to the changes in housing benefit, this website helps tenants in West Yorkshire to find a home they can afford in the private sector. Read more