Posted by: Colin Wiles20/10/2011
Is a modern version of the Window Tax about to return to England?
In this week’s House of Lords Welfare Reform debate Lord Foulkes of Cumnock raised the possibility that under-occupying tenants could evade a cut in their housing benefit by blocking up the windows of spare bedrooms.
This has echoes of the Window Tax, introduced in England in 1696 and not repealed until 1851.
It was a tax on wealth, and it was banded so the cost per window was greater the more windows you had. In 1747 you paid 6 old pence per window for ten to fourteen windows and 1 shilling per window if you had twenty or more.
Many householders simply bricked up their windows as a way of avoiding the tax, and the results can still be seen on Georgian houses in all our major towns and cities.
New houses were also built with fewer windows, such that the production of glass in 1851 was the same as in 1810, even though thousands more homes were being built.
The phrase “daylight robbery” allegedly comes from the Window Tax.
The Welfare Reform Bill proposes that any tenant of working age who is under-occupying their home should receive a cut in benefit.
According to the CLG this applies to 2 or more excess bedrooms, 1 or more if you read the DWP advice.
The DWP impact assessment also describes the cut in benefit as an “incentive” to tenants to move to smaller accommodation, which is one of the strangest uses of the word “incentive” I have ever seen.
As we all know, moving to smaller accommodation is not the easiest thing to achieve and many people under-occupy for very good reasons – partners have medical reasons which force them to sleep apart, or they have peripatetic children or guests who frequently come to stay.
But as far as I am aware, a room with no natural light is not classed as habitable, so this ruse could be as successful as it was for those who evaded the Window Tax, although landlords would need to give their consent to such an “improvement.”
The Minister, Lord Freud responded to the idea with scorn: “The coalition Government, my Lords, are not Queen Anne and we will resist any of those blocked up windows, which still blight many villages and which I know the noble Lord is very concerned about.
”This debate mirrors the report that was published this week by the Intergenerational Foundation which accuses older homeowners of “hoarding” 25 million empty bedrooms.
I’m rather opposed to this Property Police attempt to snoop on our personal living arrangements and to force us to move to smaller accommodation.
People generally occupy the size of property they want or need and to make them feel guilty about it is the start of a slippery slope that has a rather Soviet feel to it.
It also disguises the real issue, which is that housebuilding is at its lowest level since 1923.
From Inside out
An independent look at the housing sector and beyond from Colin Wiles