Saturday, 18 April 2015

Public and politicians step up bedroom tax fight

Pressure is mounting on the government to rethink its ‘bedroom tax’ with Conservative politicians, the public and housing sector chiefs all voicing their opposition to the penalty.

Thousands of protesters gathered at demonstrations across the UK on Saturday to call on the government to axe the plans, which are due to come into force on 1 April.

At one of the largest demonstrations in Manchester the organiser, former housing officer Karen Broady, warned housing associations could go bust as a result of the reforms.

‘Many people are going to have to choose between paying the rent or eating,’ she said. ‘It will be eating every time.’

‘Now that the “bedroom tax” is almost here, social housing providers must not give up the fight to urge the government to reconsider its decision.’

Ian Munro, chief executive, New Charter

Last week Freedom of Information Act requests by Inside Housing revealed several Conservative MPs have raised concerns about the under-occupation penalty, including Andrew Selous, who works closely with work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith as his parliamentary private secretary.

Mr Selous, who is MP for south west Bedfordshire, wrote to Central Bedfordshire Council on 18 January, calling for extra support for disabled people who live in homes that have been adapted for them.

Under the under-occupation penalty, social housing tenants of working age who are on housing benefit will have their payments cut if they are deemed to have one or more spare bedrooms. Around 420,000 of the 660,000 households that will be affected include a family member with a disability.

The government is making £25 million available to help vulnerable people affected by the penalty, and has introduced exemptions for some groups including foster carers, and disabled people who require a room for an overnight carer.

In his letter Mr Selous said the ‘short-term’ payments are not appropriate for people with adapted homes, and suggested they should be in a ‘separate category’.

Rival politicians have also widely criticised the plans. Scottish finance secretary John Swinney is one of the latest to make his concerns known, writing to chancellor George Osborne ahead of this week’s Budget warning the penalty will be ‘disastrous’ and calling for it to be axed.

Housing leaders have also taken their concerns about the plans to the government. New Charter chief executive Ian Munro last week sent an open letter to prime minister David Cameron saying the penalty is ‘unfair and incompetent’ as it will not achieve its stated aim of making better use of social housing stock.

Mr Munro said: ‘We’ve fought long and hard against the government’s plans from the beginning but now that the “bedroom tax” is almost here, social housing providers must not give up the fight to urge the government to reconsider its decision and see the real and devastating impact the changes will have on tenants, livelihoods and communities.’

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