Monday, 22 December 2014

Bedroom Tax

David Cameron is to the Bedroom Tax (known officially as the Social Sector Size Criterion) what Margaret Thatcher was to the Poll Tax (known officially as the Community Charge).

The unfair Bedroom Tax hits about 500,000 households in total, including more than 46,000 families in Yorkshire and Humberside and nearly 6000 in Sheffield. Two thirds of the households affected include a person with a disability. The tax also hits 60,000 carers.

The Bedroom Tax works by restricting housing benefit to allow for one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household. The cut is a fixed percentage of the Housing Benefit eligible rent. This is 14% for one extra bedroom and 25% for two or more extra bedrooms.

Let us be clear. This tax has nothing to do with ‘persuading people to move to a smaller property to enable a bigger family to move in”.  Many social housing providers already had good, sensitive transfer schemes which have been under-mined by this Tax. The government actually assumed that the vast majority of affected households would be unable to move to a smaller home, which is why it was predicted to cost less.

As predicted, for the vast majority of those affected, there is nowhere smaller to which to move. Thus, the tax hits vulnerable people through no fault of their own. The average family is trapped and losing over £700 a year.

The government’s own independent evaluation[1] of the policy recently reported that just 4.5 per cent of affected tenants were able to move to smaller accommodation within the social sector. Ludicrously, most of those who were able to find smaller accommodation in the private sector had to pay higher rents, which is why the housing benefit bill has increased.

The Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation has described the policy as “an unfair, ill-planned disaster that is hurting our poorest families.”[2] The cut in housing benefit has been so significant – the difference between keeping the head above water and drowning – that 60 per cent of affected tenants were in arrears after just 6 months. Chasing these arrears is costing a fortune; and, now, social landlords are being blamed because arrears have increased.  There is widespread concern that those who are paying are making cuts to other household essentials or incurring other debts in order to pay the rent.

But, David Cameron could not have done this on his own. Without Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats there would be no Bedroom Tax. Each time they’ve had a chance to make a difference, they’ve chosen to keep the Bedroom Tax in place.[3] No excuses, Mr Clegg.

[3] The Liberal Democrats voted for the legislation that created the Bedroom Tax, and even voted against amendments tabled by Labour that would have exempted people with disabilities whose homes had been specially adapted for them, or who could not find alternative accommodation where support services and suitable employment was locally available.

On 13 November 2013 Labour forced a vote in the House of Commons on a motion to abolish the Bedroom Tax. This was opposed by the Liberal Democrat front bench although Andrew George and Tim Farron rebelled to vote with Labour.

On 12 February 2014, MP Ian Lavery had a Ten Minute Rule Bill to abolish the bedroom tax and reform housing benefit. Ian Lavery said that those “who voted in favour of introducing this dreaded bedroom tax may have underestimated the human suffering that it would cause”. The Lib Dems had the chance to support this and vote with Labour, but they failed to do so.