Monday, 28 January 2013

Going spare!

The government has decided to press ahead with its policy of cutting the housing benefit of any household deemed to have one or more spare bedrooms.

Most of the households who are going to be penalised are working households on low incomes. Typically, they will be families who occupy two- or three-bedroom homes but whose children have grown up and left home. Many of the families will have lived in their homes for many years, and it is the home to which their children and grand-children return on a regular basis.

Now, if they are deemed to be under-occupying, they are going to lose a fixed percentage of their Housing Benefit – 14% for one extra bedroom and 25% for two or more extra bedrooms.  The Government’s impact assessment shows that those affected will lose an average of £14 a week. Housing association tenants are expected to lose £16 a week on average.

More than 660,000 households are set to lose out from this measure across the UK.  The Government admits that many of the tenants who will lose out stand no chance of moving to a smaller home, because there isn’t one available. Even where one is available, the likelihood is that it will be miles from the current home.

There is likely to be a massive impact on the social support networks that families, friends and neighbours currently have. I well remember that when the then Conservative government forced up bus-fares in the 1980s, there was a huge increase in demand for home and social care – particularly for the elderly – as people found themselves unable to pay for the increased costs of visiting elderly relatives, often on a daily basis.

Many councils have had good schemes to help households who want to move to a smaller home to do so – some have even included incentives. But what the government is doing is miles away from this good practice. Expect increased arrears, increased homelessness, and a reduction in family and social care.