September 19, 2013

ENGLAND: Half The Families Hit By BEDROOM TAX 'Now In Debt'; Thousands Can't Pay Rent Three Months Into Scheme, As Housing Chief Says: We Can't Magic Up Smaller Homes

The Guardian UK
written by Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor
Wednesday September 18, 2013

More than half of families hit by the bedroom tax have been pushed into debt during the first three months of the policy, leading to calls from the country's biggest housing groups for a retreat from the scheme.

The National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, said a survey of 51 of its biggest members found more than half of their residents affected by the bedroom tax – 32,432 people – could not pay their rent between April and June. The survey shows a quarter of those affected by the tax had fallen behind with their rent for the first time ever.

David Orr, the NHF's chairman, will say these figures could mean "over 330,000 households [were] already struggling to pay their rent and facing a frightening and uncertain future" when he addresses the federation's national conference on Thursday.

The intervention comes on the heels of a furious row between the government and the UN's special rapporteur on housing, Raquel Rolnik, after she recommended scrapping the policy because of the "shocking" effects on vulnerable citizens. Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, accused Rolnik of undermining the impartiality of the UN. A Tory MP described Rolnik as a "loopy Brazilian leftie".

The government policy has been dubbed the bedroom tax because housing benefit is docked by 14% if welfare claimants in social housing have a spare bedroom.

Orr repeats the criticism made by Rolnik and goes further by arguing that ministers have miscalculated the number of homes available for tenants to downsize into. Although 180,000 households were "under-occupying" two bedroom homes, he says only 85,000 one-bed homes became available in 2012.

Orr is expected to say: "Housing associations are working flat-out to help their tenants cope with the changes, but they can't magic one-bedroom houses out of thin air. People are trapped. What more proof do politicians need that the bedroom tax is an unfair, ill-planned disaster that is hurting our poorest families? There is no other option but to repeal."

The bedroom tax affects about 660,000 claimants of working age, including 420,000 (63%) who report a disability. According to the Department for Work and Pensions' (DWP) own assessment the majority of households will lose £12 a week, while 120,000 claimants will be on average £22 worse off per week.

Liam Byrne, Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "The jury is now in. David Cameron's hated bedroom tax is pushing a generation into foodbanks and loan-sharks. This government seems determined to stand up for a privileged few, but stands idle while hundreds of thousands of our neighbours are pushed into debt from which they may never recover."

The government said it was "monitoring carefully" the policy, which ministers describe as removing a spare room subsidy, and had £190m available to help "vulnerable tenants". A DWP spokesperson questioned whether it was right to extrapolate long-term trends from such an "early stage of policy".

"The removal of the spare room subsidy is a necessary reform to return fairness to housing benefit. Even after the reform we pay over 80% of most claimants' housing benefit – but the taxpayer can no longer afford to pay for people to live in properties larger than they need. It is fair that people contribute to these costs, just as private renters do."

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