Peer in bid to make welfare reform transparent
Crossbench peer Lord Richard Best has tabled a last-ditch amendment aimed at making the impact of controversial welfare reforms more transparent.
Peers will tonight debate the bill, which aims to restrict and simplify benefits.
Lord Best has twice tabled amendments to water down a controversial ‘bedroom tax’ for social housing tenants deemed to be underoccupying their homes. The amendments were passed by the House of Lords but defeated in the House of Commons.
Lord Best’s latest proposal accepts the ‘bedroom tax’, which according to government estimates will see around 670,000 households with one or more spare rooms hit with an average penalty of £14 a week, as it stands.
But it commits the secretary of state for department of work and pensions to commission an independent review of the impact of the way housing costs in the new universal credit are calculated, including the ‘bedroom tax.’
The review would begin in October 2013, six months after the bedroom tax comes into force. It would assess the impact on families, poverty, homelessness, the levels of underoccupancy, rent arrears and the effect on local authority resources. A report would be published six months after the review, with the process repeated the following year.
Lord David Freud has already committed to independent monitoring of the impact of the ‘bedroom tax’, but Lord Best said his amendment would ‘be the full works’ and would prevent the government making inaccurate claims about the impact of their policies.
Lord Best, referring to a discredited claim made by Prime Minister David Cameron last month that private rents are falling, said: ‘This amendment would ensure that [saying things like] ‘rents are going down’ will not be acceptable statements in the future.’
Peers are hopeful the latest amendment will be acceptable to the government, as it will leave the ‘bedroom tax’ policy intact and will not lead to significant public expenditure.
Andy Tate, policy officer at the National Housing Federation, said: ‘We hope the government will take this opportunity to flesh out its commitment to commission an independent review into the impact of the tax and other potentially damaging elements of the Welfare Reform Bill.
‘Such a review will have a crucial role to play in evaluating the impact of the changes on homelessness, poverty and arrears once the measures are introduced in April 2013.
‘This is particularly important given the government’s own admission that there is a shortage of smaller accommodation into which tenants will need to downsize to avoid housing benefit cuts for under-occupation.’
Tonight’s debate is expected to take place after 7.30pm.