Government plans to cut the housing benefit of social tenants with spare rooms will drive "thousands into poverty", the National Housing Federation has warned. It will also particularly disadvantage a significant number of disabled people.
Earlier this week the House of Commons voted by a margin of 316 to 263 to reject a House of Lords' compromise amendment on the housing benefit issue to the Welfare Reform Bill (WRB).
Peers had voted to protect vulnerable groups living in homes with one spare room where alternative accommodation could not be found. Under current plans, some 670,000 working age social tenants, two-thirds of them including a disabled family member, face losing an average of £14 per week from April 2013 because they are deemed to have one or more additional bedrooms.
The government says it hopes to save £490 million from the £23 billion annual housing benefit bill from the measure, but even that is disputed in relation to consequential costs.
David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, responded: "This vote is a blow to thousands of families in social housing across the country, many of whom are already struggling to make ends meet."
He continued: "That nearly 80 organisations, from disability charities to mortgage lenders, and peers and MPs of all parties, came together in support of this change to the Welfare Reform Bill shows just how important this issue is. But our voices, and those of tenants, have been ignored.
Orr continued: "This unfair bedroom tax will penalise some of Britain’s most vulnerable families for under-occupying their homes when they have nowhere to move to."
In December the Lords voted for a compromise amendment to protect families with just one additional bedroom if no suitable alternative is available. Earlier this month, the Government claimed financial privilege and rejected the proposals.
When the Welfare Reform Bill last returned to the Lords, Peers voted for another compromise amendment to exempt disabled people, war widows and foster carers with nowhere else to move to. That was also rejected in the Commons.
David Orr added: "The financial cost of this modest compromise would have been tiny - a fraction of the money lost yearly through administrative error in the benefit system. But the social impact of rejecting it will be devastating. This bedroom tax will hurt some of Britain’s most vulnerable families, forcing many into poverty."
"Discretionary Housing Payments are not an appropriate response," he declared, reacting to the Government's £30 million increase in such provision. "The funds are insufficient and won’t even be ringfenced to protect those they are supposed to help. We will be working hard with housing associations to make sure these unfair proposals do as little damage as possible to the lives of social housing tenants."