The Bedroom Tax nine months on

Nine months on from the implementation of the bedroom tax, Gloria Roberts looks at the impact it's had so far.

Nine months on from the implementation of the bedroom tax, Gloria Roberts looks at the impact it’s had so far

Last week it was revealed that 40,000 people could be affected by a legal mistake made by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over the hated bedroom tax. A refund of up to £640 could now be administered to those who were wrongly held liable.

The bedroom tax is the most controversial of the coalition’s welfare reforms. Since April 2013, benefits have been deducted from social housing tenants of working age who are found to have more bedrooms than they ‘need’. The benefit is docked at 14 per cent per week for one spare room and 25 per cent for two or more spare rooms.

Many of those hardest hit by the policy are disabled claimants. Some even argue that disabled people face discrimination under the tax.

Richard Stein of the human rights team at Leigh Day, a personal injury, employment and human rights solicitors, has said:

“Many people with disabilities including our clients may lose their homes unless the law is changed. Their lives are already difficult enough without the fear of losing their accommodation which has been provided specifically to meet their exceptional needs.”

The suicide of Stephanie Botrill, 53, from Solihull is a tragic example of the lengths to which some have felt driven by the bedroom tax. In a letter left to her son, Ms Botrill stated “I can’t afford to live any more”.

Under the bedroom tax, she would have had to pay an extra £20 a week for two under-occupied rooms in her house. Alternatively, she would have had to move out of a house she had lived in for over 18 years.

Another case of the overwhelming pressure people hit by the bedroom tax are under is the tragic death of a single mother who begged her local council for a smaller house but later took her own life over a £600 bill she was unable to pay.

Alan Rogers, the boss of Cobalt Housing, has stated that:

“The bedroom tax is putting many of our customers under terrible pressure. We have dedicated staff offering practical help. We believe the bedroom tax is deeply unfair and we urge the government to think again.”

The Economic Impact

Leeds City Council has announced that it will reclassify rooms in 837 houses to help tenants avoid the bedroom tax. However 7,000 households have already been hit and 2,800 of these households are now behind on their payments.

The council is already facing total arrears of £138,000, and by the end of the financial year those losses look set to top £1m.

The cost of administrating this system means that councils are using vast sums of money that could have been used on repairs and maintenance but also more pressingly to build new homes. Although the coalition has increased emergency housing support from £60m to £155m, it is obvious that this is not enough to help all those who have been affected by the bedroom tax.

To make matters worse, the bedroom tax has exacerbated problems caused by a shortage of housing in the UK. One city struggling with this phenomenon is Hull. In 2013, 4,700 were hit by the bedroom tax for having an extra room when there were only 73 smaller council properties they could move into.

There appears to be widespread administrative fallout from those being hit by the changes. In April, more than 25,000 people applyed for discretionary housing payments (DHP) to help cover their rent, according to an analysis of 51 councils by the Independent. There were only 5,700 such claimants in the same month last year.

The worst effects of the bedroom tax are still to be fully felt; and, at present, there is still no light at the end of the tunnel for those affected.

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