Friday, 19 September 2014

Government urged to rethink bedroom tax

The Chartered Institute of Housing has urged the government to make concessions to its plans for a ‘bedroom tax’ after the latest Welfare Reform Bill defeat.

On Monday peers in the House of Lords voted through an amendment to the bill that would exempt some vulnerable groups from the proposals to cut housing benefit for working age social households that are deemed to be underoccupying their home.

The government has said it will overturn the amendment when the bill returns to the House of Commons. MPs have already thrown out an earlier Lords amendment that would have made households exempt from the cut if they only have one spare room or no suitable smaller homes are available.

The institute is calling on the government to review its proposals in the light of the opposition demonstrated in the House of Lords.

Under the plans working age social households in receipt of housing benefit would see their payments cut if they are deemed to be underoccupying their home. The cuts are expected to amount to 15 per cent of housing benefit for one spare bedroom, rising to 25 per cent for two.

The rules state one bedroom is allowed for each person or couple in a household. Children under the age of 15 are expected to share with one other child of the same gender, and those under the age of nine are expected to share with one other child regardless of gender.

Grainia Long, interim chief executive of the CIH, said: ‘The Lords have twice backed amendments to reform this wrong-headed measure; there is explicit support for a different approach from more than 70 organisations; and we have heard emotional illustrations of the likely unavoidable impact of these reforms on low income households up and down the country.

‘We need government to sit down again with housing professionals to take on board the reality on the ground in the design of the legislation. Only by drawing on the experience of those who provide social housing, some of which informed the Lords debate last night, will government be able to deliver a system of help with housing costs that actually works.’

Readers' comments (21)

  • Ernie Gray

    Aha the new president and his deputy have signalled the new direction and the need to give out clear messages- onward and upward..........

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  • Non sense policies all over the place. These individuals cannot pay the deficit when this comes into force and they simply won't. The only thing this is going to hit is housing providers who will never make enough money to regenerate housing stock.

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  • michael barratt

    In my understanding (please correct if I am wrong) an individual council or housing association tenant living alone in the circumstances where their children have left home will have their housing benefit clawed back irrespective of how long their have lived in their home and/or there is no suitable alternative downsized accommodation available to them

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  • F451

    Interesting idea this - professionals, experts, advising politicians so that their decision making may be more appropriate. Perhaps we need a support structure behind the government. What could we call it? How about 'Civil Service?' But then this government does not want to listen to anyone other than their own rheotric driven think tanks.

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  • This is clearly a mechanism for forcing people out of their homes. As usual it is the stick rather than carrot approach, I think we need to consider carefully the consequences in terms of well being of individuals who have invested considerably in their homes, who have lived most of their lives in a property, it could be quite devastating if a satisfactory alternative is not available but they cannot afford to remain in their HOME. Certainly offer incentives, I know a neighbour who made the choice consciously herself to give her 3 bed up for a 2 bed flat and that home is now housing a larger family. However I think it is quite wrong to just force people who are emotionally attached to their homes, who have invested so much in it. It is easy to look at figures on a bit of paper and shuffle people around but it is not actually solving the problem satisfactorily, and not addressing the underlying problem and although alleviating the suffering of some, will simply cause more misery to others so it is not actually a solution.

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  • Daedalus

    Just out of interest (it is obviously never going to happen), what would your views be if the government said:

    "OK, we have listened to you and anybody currently in a home will not be affected by this. However, any social tennant signing a lease from 1st April 2013 onwards will be subject to this new practice."

    As I say, it will never happen, but I would be interested to know people's views on this scenario.

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  • F451

    Daedalus - that would be very acceptable as the onus would be on the landlord to let responsibly.

    The downside will be where a young family may have been previously let a needs+1 property so that they did not need to be moved in a couple of years when the family grew, or where other needs or family make up change during the tenancy and the landlord does not have sufficient flexibility and capacity within their stock to continually shuffle people around to maintain the best fit.

    Three solutions present themselves:

    1. That the government cease looking to blame tenants for the government's failure to invest in new housing, housing sufficient to meet the needs and shape of modern families, housing that can be reasoanbly afforded by average incomes. None of the 3 Tory Parties seem inclined to do this.

    2. That the ruling should only be applied where the tenant has refused an available alternative property and so is deliberately under-occupying despite and alternative propety being available to them such that would have enabled them to exercise their right to family life as described in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, the government has already decided that tenants are not humans and therefore must not have such a right.

    3. That all existing properties are demolished and replaced with converted small sized freight containers, stacked in such a way that they can be added to or removed simply. When the membership of a household changes, a container is removed so that no extra room results. Removed containers could then be added to home-stacks where overcrowding exists. Or more seriously - adopt the practice that was common in the Middle Ages where you would rent your spare bedroom to your neighbour, who would knock through to make their home bigger - or multiple versions of such to create a thrid dwelling between the two existing. Indeed, if walls were made of card this would be easier to achieve and less costly. This is stupid enough for Shapps to think it was his own idea.

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  • michael barratt

    Hi Daedalus

    At least new tenants would be entering into a contract knowing that the rug could be pulled from underneath them at any time. When past governments were promoting selling off council housing to housing associations repeatedly existing tenants were assured that reduced rights only applied to new tenants. This strategy merely attempts to promote selfishness and drive a wedge between groups who are frequently disadvantaged.

    The Government is merely attempting to introduce into the home the insecurity that social tenants encounter on a daily basis in the labour market. The welfare bill is merely a strategy to motivate with a stick often low skilled workers to accept below poverty level wages without pensions, holidays or sickness pay. To reduce tax liabilities for middle to upper income groups thereby preserving their share of a shrinking economic due to UK PLC being on the rocks - Who fault is that? The Tories and their mates flying too close to the sun, Daedulus?

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  • I think it might be helpful to look at the amendment as proposed by Lord Best and read his speech in support of it. He is a time served housing professional who knows his stuff, (like many of the noble peers)
    http://tinyurl.com/7n82kp7.

    I call his amendment the Little Nell/Tiny Tim amendment as it seems to fit the Dickens bicentenary to a tee. The only households who will benefit are the halt the lame the widows and orphans.

    “(3A) In relation to a dwelling of which the landlord is a local housing authority or a registered provider of social housing, and no suitable alternative accommodation (as defined in regulations to be made under this section, and provided by any such provider) is available, regulations under this section shall not permit the housing cost element of the universal credit to be less than the actual amount of the liability in a case where a household has no more than one spare bedroom, and—

    (a) the claimant is subject to no work related requirements in
    accordance with the provisions of section 19;
    (b) the claimant, or a child or a young person for whom either or both the claimants is responsible, is in receipt of disability living
    allowance, or personal independence payment, or attendance
    allowance or an increase of disablement pension where constant
    attendance is required; or

    (c) the claimant is a war widow or widower; or

    (d) the claimant routinely provides foster care placements.

    (3B) In subsection (3A), “claimant” means a single claimant or joint claimant.””

    and

    “ In relation to a dwelling of which the landlord is a local housing authority or a registered provider of social housing, and no suitable alternative accommodation (as defined in regulations to be made under this section, and provided by any such provider) is available, regulations under this section shall not permit the AMHB to be less than the actual amount of the liability in a case where a household has no more than one spare bedroom, and—

    (a) the claimant is subject to no work-related requirements in
    accordance with the provisions of section 11D of the Welfare Reform Act 2007;

    (b) the claimant, their partner or a child or a young person for whom
    the claimant (or their partner) is responsible, is in receipt of disability living allowance, or personal independence payment, or
    attendance allowance or an increase of disablement pension where
    constant attendance is required;

    (c) the claimant is a war widow or widower; or

    (d) the claimant or their partner routinely provides foster care
    placements.”

    The article suggest that young people over 15 are entitled to their own bedroom, however the minister has a consultation on allocations out at the moment http://tinyurl.com/6slbsqw and prefers the Bedroom standard definition of overcrowding which is stated as one bedroom for

    A married or cohabiting couple
    One adult aged 21 years or more
    A pair of adolescents aged 10-20 years of the same sex
    A pair of children aged under 10 years regardless of sex.

    So Michael in answer to your question, yes the lone householder would have to downsize unless they fit into Lord Best's categories.

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  • Please can someone clarify something....

    the reductions in HB only apply to those of working age....so....does that mean that once you start getting pension related benefits that you get the full HB back again?

    Or does the exemption for those of pension age only apply to those in that situation at the time the legislation is passed? Meaning that once the reduction is applied - it remains whatever your circumstances?

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