The real problem with the Bedroom Tax

How can people downsize if they have nowhere to go?


Yesterday, the government lost two cases at the Court of Appeal, when a judge ruled that Iain Duncan Smith’s so-called ‘Bedroom Tax’ had in fact discriminated against two claimants. The first was a woman whose home is equipped with a panic room because she is at risk from an ex-partner who has harassed, stalked and raped her.

The second claimants were a couple who care for their severely disabled teenage grandson, and have a room in which to store his medical equipment and accommodate the overnight carers he requires. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) is now launching a legal challenge against both parties to ensure that they pay the charge.

These two cases are patently unfair, and it is difficult to see how the DWP can possibly justify charging these households what they call the ‘spare room subsidy’. Even the Daily Mail has jumped on the bandwagon of calling out the policy, despite its support for it in the past.

But is there an argument in favour of the ‘spare room subsidy’, and has it actually been successful?

When the policy was introduced, the government said it would reduce the waiting list for families needing social housing.

Housing associations have reported something of a vicious circle resulting from the Bedroom Tax; where families have a room that is genuinely surplus they are aware of the need to downsize, but there is simply no smaller housing available (the charity Shelter says that the waiting list for social housing has increased by 81 per cent since 1997).

The government’s own report on the policy in December found that ‘there is evidence of a declining proportion of lets to those who under occupy their new home in England, and an increase in proportion of lets to families from 36.3 per cent in 2012–13 to 40.7 per cent in 2013–14’.

“Most LAs and social landlords reported that large numbers of people were unable to move because of a shortage of smaller homes. Some claimants said they had not registered because they were aware of the shortage (case studies and claimant qualitative interviews).”

There is of course a great human cost to the policy – a survey by the National Housing Federation found that 46 per cent of tenants affected by the Bedroom Tax had borrowed money to pay their rent since April 2013; 32 per cent had reduced their spending on food; and 26 per cent had cut back on heating costs.

But the fundamental problem with the Bedroom Tax is that people cannot ‘downsize’ if there is nowhere for them to go. Shelter estimates that to solve the housing crisis, 250,000 more affordable homes would need to be built each year in England alone, but housebuilding is at its lowest ‘peacetime’ level since the 1920s.

Meanwhile, rents have been rising faster than inflation – in the year to May 2015, average rental values for new tenancies in the UK were 10.7 per cent higher than the same period last year.

The decision to appeal yesterday shows that the government is willing to hold on to this policy despite all the evidence against it; it is ideologically driven, illogical, and unworkable in coordination with other policies.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward

9 Responses to “The real problem with the Bedroom Tax”

  1. NHSGP

    Lets put the alternative view.

    On the two cases, I think the state is wrong. There is a clear need, particularly in the second.

    On the spare rooms, that’s not a need that’s a want. Tough, you don’t get to make other people poorer because you want something.

    On the downsizing bit.

    1. Make sure social housing is for people who have needs. That means no life time tenure.

    2. Make sure that no migrants are in social housing. Migrants are apparently net contributors. So they are rich. They therefore don’t need social housing. [Unless the bit about net contributors that I keep being told by those in favour of migration is a lie]

    3. Why build houses? You only need to do that because migration is up. You then claim that more affordable housing is needed, and that’s as a consequence of migration.But they are rich, these migrants because they are net contributors. See the assumption that’s not true.

    4. Rents rising? Yep. It’s demand again.

    5. “legal challenge against both parties to ensure that they pay the charge.”

    Nope. There’s no charge. There’s the rent. They challenged because they wanted someone else to pay their rent. At least be honest about what’s going on.

    That’s the problem. You won’t be straight about what’s happening. Instead you would rather look at it through your own ideological bias.

    Then there’s the core problem. When you include pension debts, the UK state and in particular the welfare state is bankrupt. There’s no money

  2. madasafish

    46 per cent of tenants affected by the Bedroom Tax had borrowed money to pay their rent since April 2013; 32 per cent had reduced their spending on food; and 26 per cent had cut back on heating costs.”

    And the comparison figures for those unaffected are: ?

    After all, everyone was being squeezed by rising energy costs.

    Anyone but anyone who knows anything about statistics would look at that quote and ask the same question as I have..

    You really are working hard at making your case easily disregarded.

  3. David Davies

    Compare this to the effort expended to get Google to pay their whack! IDS is a bigger threat to UK citizens than ISIS.

  4. madasafish

    So you are accusing IDS of rape and beheadings?

  5. Cthulhu

    ‘A threat to the UK’ Is what I read! And in the UK Isis is supposed to be a terrorist threat, unlike the threat in the Middle East! IDS has managed to kill thousands of sick and disabled in this country.. I’d say that’s a damn site more than Isis has managed in the UK. Wouldn’t you!?

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