Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spare Room Subsidy/Bedroom Tax

Perhaps the most contentious policy I've ever blogged on - but feel it should be done. Can't be ducked. Its taken me a while to feel completely comfortable backing this Government policy myself. The issue is changes to housing benefit, where there is some dispute about terminology. One man's ‘spare room subsidy’ is another man's ‘bedroom tax’. The gist of the change is that Housing Benefit will no longer be paid for bedrooms that are considered to be surplus to needs. But its not straightforward and I'll not pretend it is. I support the change - but I expect as many readers to disagree as agree.

Let me begin by setting out the context. Firstly, The incoming Gov't in 2010 faced a position where the outgoing Gov't had spent £150billion (that's £150,000,000,000) more in the previous year than it had coming in. There is not the slightest chance that Labour would not have been forced into making the same level of reductions in spending as the Coalition. And there are but two areas of major spending where these reductions could reasonably have been made - public sector pay and welfare (in a broad sense). Its highly questionable that enough reduction has yet been made. At current spending levels, the implications for future generations is horrific.

 Secondly private sector tenants are already subject to similar legislation. The previous Gov't introduced a 'local housing allowance scheme' which meant no Housing Benefit would be available for private sector tenants. At the time there was a huge hoohah about evictions etc - which simply did not happen. There are over one million private sector tenants on housing benefit. Why is it 'fair' for tenants in the private sector, but not in the public sector?

And thirdly, what about the 250,000 households living in seriously overcrowded conditions - and the hundreds of thousands who are waiting for a home, and do not have a bedroom at all!  Can this be fair when one third of working-age social housing tenants on Housing Benefit are in accommodation that is bigger than that which they actually need. There are nearly a million spare bedrooms, supported by the tax payer to the tune of £500 million per year. The main purpose of the change is to make more efficient use of our social housing stock.

The principles on which this change is based is entirely logical. Polling also shows that in general the public support the change - which is probably the reason behind some Labour spokespersons letting it be known that they are no longer opposed to the principle - and now fully support efficient use of social housing. Despite this, they still shout about the 'Bedroom Tax' at every opportunity, knowing that the reality is too complex for the media to report.

 But as so often with a change of policy, there are difficulties at the 'individual' level. There are 'hard cases'. Always are. Which is why the legislation allows for 'exceptions'. It must, and always has excluded tenants who would find the change unacceptably difficult. The tactics of the 'Opposition' has spread great fear amongst tenants. Money is being given to local authorities so that they can help people on a case-by-case basis. I was particularly disgusted by the fears caused to foster families, which became so bad that the Gov't decided to make specific reference to them in the Bill.  Some other 'exceptions' to the policy include disabled people requiring a non-resident overnight carer, as will pensioners and those in supported ‘exempt’ accommodation. Other exemptions allow a spare room where a child’s disability means they cannot share a bedroom. and will allow armed forces personnel to keep their bedrooms within their parent’s home when they are deployed on operations.

The new policy works so that each person (or couple) is allocated a bedroom. Only children under 16 of the same gender will have to share or children younger than 10 regardless of their gender. The reduction for having one spare bedroom will be 14% of the Housing Benefit, or 25% for two or more spare bedrooms. The coalition has calculated that the average reduction will be £14 per week - £2 per day.

This change is based on the principle of fairness. Fairness to those in overcrowded homes, fairness to those in the private rented sector who cannot have a spare bedroom under the current rules, and fairness to the taxpayer. As usual there are plenty of myths circulating these changes, many of which are completely unfounded. Of course, when policy makers initiate reform, they accept there will be tweaks to make before the reforms are introduced. Coalition Government is listening to the genuine concerns that have been expressed by we, MPs as well as the public. We are doing all we can seeking to make this reform one that is fair and workable. Its not a reform that MPs want to do, but Coalition MPs believe we have no choice.


Anonymous said...

Please get back to the grass root level of this on paper it might look good but in realty it does not work and please let us know why there was a big rush to get this through ,they could have introduce it over a period of time ,by one not letting people have places with more bedrooms than they needed

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I am wondering about the thousands of homes that were sold off during the Thatcher years and the many that are now in the hands of Conservative property speculators.I am probably among many who are willing to downsize if there were homes to downsize to.The Councils and Housing Associations have washed their hands of exchanges,they now point you to sites like Homeswapper which are a little more than useless.If we are all in this together what contribution are the Tory millionares making,this is a shameful and vile tax.

Anonymous said...

What about parents that have their children at weekends and on school holidays? Just because they dont claim the child benefit then they will be hit with Bedroom Tax. Right now it is unacceptable for a 10 year old girl to share a room with a 3 year old boy but come April then it is acceptable for them to share a couchbed in the living room? That is just silly. A girl who is changing into a young lady has no privacy because she sleeps in the living room and a toddler who is changing into a little boy has to witness everything that a young lady goes through? What about disabled people that ATOS, who doesnt use qualified doctors, deems fit for work and needs these rooms for medical equipment or partners who are carers? What about severely disabled children who are not exempt because it is down to local housing associations or councils to deem who is disabled enough for their room? What about foster carers that have not fostered in the past 12 months or have their own children? They are not exempt. What about single military personnel that come home from fighting illegal wars for oil, drugs and lithium and want to stay in their social house that so happens to have a 'spare' room? These exemptions are just a PR stunt and do not help anyone. If this was about freeing up social housing then the government would have built more houses. If it was about freeing up social housing then everyone would be affected. How many people not on housing benefit have 'spare' rooms? It is not about saving money because evictions, which will happen, some local housing associations and councils are already starting the process, cists money. Appealing against the decision, which a vast majority of people affected will appeal, costs money. My local council for example has a policy that if you are evicted through no fault of your own then they have to rehouse you, which costs money. Maybe if our government stopped sending money to other countries for weapons, maybe if our government stopped spending all that taxpayers money on their own expenses, maybe if our government and the bankers hadn't lost all that money then their would be jobs. Maybe if our government stopped the workfare program then that would free up jobs for the unemployed. Do not believe that everyone on benefits is a scrounger which our government have labeled them. Do not believe our governments tool, the mainstream media, to get your information. Our government are slowly taking away our freedoms. Freedoms that our forefathers fought 2 world wars to keep. I urge you to look up the privatisation of the NHS, which means no medical care for us. Privatisation of the police force, which means police will be working to targets. Secret courts bill, which means that anyone can be classed as a terrorist and be put in jail with no evidence or chance of a jury. Look up what happened in Iceland, when the people rose up against their corrupt bankers and corrupt politicians and removed them from power. Why hasn't all this been reported on mainstream media? The Bedroom Tax is just the beginning. Attack the poor and vulnerable first. Attacking a minority. Does that remind you of anyone? Ill give you a clue, he had the same kind of moustache as Charlie Chaplin. The more people research this government and its plans for our bright future then the more people will stand up to them and do what Iceland have shown us can be done. Our government are our civil servants, they are here to serve us, not themselves. We gave them the power and we can take it away. When your children are older and are living under a tyrannical government, and they ask you what you did to fight it, what will you tell them? We have to vote a party in that is for the good people of Britain. Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative are no longer these parties. It is time to show these tyrants the true meaning of British Spirit, just like our forefathers did.

Anonymous said...

so wheres the smaller properties then??? Have you ever tried looking at Homeswapper??? Could you live on £71 a week, and pay bedroom tax?? Find surplus smaller properties for people to downsize to, and ONLY then, present your pathetic arguement....

Wayne "AbzWayne" Leiper said...

You claim this is fair, but how is it fair to force persons in Social Housing and claiming benefits out of a home due to them being unable in any way to pay this shortfall.

I am long term Unemployed on JSA, living in a social housing 2 bedroomed flat and I have been activily looking to get a move out of here to a smaller place for myself for over 2 years unsucessfully. The simple plain fact is this, there is very little social housing available as most of the properties are under private landlords or private sector flats that are more expensive in rent for a 1 bedroomed flat in the private sector that is is for a 3 bedroomed flat in the social sector.
You say is it fair for people to be overcrowded, I agree with you it is not, but why are they overcroweded in the first place.

This draconian measure of over occupancy does not take into consideration the family angle of things at all, I am a single person, in my 40's and the last time I met a partner she already had a child that I was willing to take in as she had no place else to stay.
With this over occupancy rule, I would be forced into having a relationship and being overcrowded in my own home, if I was moved or indeed move into a bedsit / one bedroomed flat!
This is a morally wrong thing that the government has inflicted upon us with no choice in the matter. I would happily sit with someone in the council and do a move / swap into a 1 bedroomed flat if I could, but the plain an simple fact is it costs a lot of money to be able to move and the council do not assist persons that do not claim any extra benefits. So persons like me, on JobSeekers have no assistance at all from anywhere to help with moving costs as we have not got the income to make up what is needed. Remember, we are given an allowance that enables us to get by on what is considered the "basic amount you require to live on" So where in this amount of money are we able to afford moving costs or a £10 or more penalty PER WEEK if we dont!

Anonymous said...

In the real world, Glyn. The people who get top up 'housing benefits who have a spare bedroom in social housing are usually the retired where the kids have flown the nest. These properties tend to be vacated in the medium term anyway due to death or moving to mobility adopted accommodation.This is currently the process which releases multi-bedroom social housing to growing families. Moving them into 'one bedroom flats' is nonsense as (a) they don't exist or are in tall buildings and, (b) already over-subscribed by people needing social housing who don't yet have families. Also, there is also a small segment of couples or single parents who actively procreate to obtain more benefits and a bigger house. This 'bedroom tax' will make the process easier, by evicting a granny. You know it's bonkers, Glyn. Please concentrate on reducing the benefits bill with more grounded policies.

Anonymous said...

I am wondering how you can back this seriously flawed policy and yet feel free to claim almost £25,000 in accommodation costs yourself? The people that are having to pay this evil and ill thought out tax are those on the lowest of incomes in this country and not on an income anywhere near the salary of an MP and that's before the mind boggling pay increase that MP's will get whilst the rest of us have to subsist on huge decreases (in inflationary terms) in real life incomes.
Walk a mile in the shoes of the people of this country that are suffering - and I MEAN suffering - at the hands of this out of touch and heartless government. Many have died because of their policies and hopefully this will be shown in history although I doubt it because the Conservatives have managed to delete all speeches prior to 2010 from the face of the earth. None can be found not in the whole WWW!!!
Remember those who you tread on, on the way up the ladder will be met on the way back down!!