New research shows continuing harm caused by bedroom tax

By staff writers
7 Apr 2014

New research shows that the number of households hit by the bedroom tax has fallen by just 15 per cent during the last year, with nearly six out of seven affected households unable to avoid a cut in rent support.

The research, sourced under the Freedom of Information Act by advocacy outfit False Economy, reveals that the number of households subject to the bedroom tax – which results in a reduction in their housing benefit – has actually increased in some local authorities, and barely fallen in others.

The research suggests that the vast majority of tenants hit have been unable to respond to the cut in their housing budget by moving to a smaller home, earning their way out of housing benefit or taking in a lodger as the government expected.

As rent arrears grow and the widely predicted shortage of vacant one-bedroom properties becomes more apparent, thousands of low-income households have had no choice but to try to absorb a significant cut in their income.

Ministers will claim that the figures could improve over four or five years – but by then many tenants will have been buried under a mountain of unpayable debts, says False Economy.

The figures show the change in councils’ bedroom tax caseload – comparing the number of households who were subject to a reduction in their housing benefit when the tax was introduced last April to the numbers affected in February and March 2014. Some local authorities report an increase in their bedroom tax caseload, while most show only modest reductions.

If the bedroom tax had achieved its stated objective of significantly cutting both the under-occupation and the overcrowding of social housing, the caseload reduction would be significantly greater, says False Economy.

The research’s key findings include:
* In some parts of the country, the number of people affected by the tax has actually risen during the year – with New Forest and Arun District Councils both reporting a 25 per cent increase.
* Only eight councils across Britain have seen their bedroom tax caseload fall by more than a third – compared to 100 local authorities where it has fallen by less than ten per cent.
* The nation or region with the smallest drop in bedroom tax caseload was Scotland – where many councils are refusing to evict affected tenants – but the North East and Wales also had low reductions.

The research suggests that the sharpest fall in caseload would have been expected soon after the tax came into effect, when those who could escape the tax did so.

Given that the reduction also includes the impact of administrative changes that will not be repeated (where a group of people initially assessed to be liable for the tax were later found not to be legally subject to it) – it is unlikely that this year’s modest 15 per cent reduction can be matched in future years.

A False Economy spokesperson commented: “The bedroom tax has failed on each of the government’s stated objectives – just as so many warned it would.

“But the bedroom tax was never about make making housing allocation fairer or cutting the welfare bill. It was about putting social housing further out of the reach of those who need it, and driving families into a debt spiral that traps them in squalid overpriced private tenancies and jobs that don’t pay.”

Trades Union Congress (TUC) General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The bedroom tax is one of the most spiteful and unfair measures introduced by this government. It shows just how out of touch with ordinary people and the real world ministers are.

“Ministers seem not to know about the nationwide shortage of single bedroom social homes nor are they aware of any of the many valid reasons why tenants need more space than the government says they do.

“And the bedroom tax hasn’t stopped the housing benefit bill from going up. This is because wages have stagnated for the working poor and rents have increased as the decades long failure to build enough homes bites,” she concluded.

* False Economy - why the cuts are the wrong cure: http://falseeconomy.org.uk

[Ekk/3]

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