A plain English guide on how the Bedroom Tax ‘works’

Wellington Parade, Dukinfield
Tenants in Housing Association and former municipal housing stock claiming Housing Benefit will be hit by the bedroom tax. Seen here is the southern end of Wellington Parade, which runs through the middle of Dukinfield Central housing estate.

From Easter Monday [01 April] this year, there will be fundamental changes made to Housing Benefit. Tenants in social housing will be deducted 14% or 25% from their Housing Benefit if they have one or more spare bedrooms. Dubbed as the ‘Bedroom Tax’, this would not only hit tenants in the pocket, but also in other ways, such as their right to affordable housing or stable family life. In a nutshell, the Bedroom Tax is a Mansion Tax for the poor!

The ruling restricts the use of one bedroom per person. Two boys or two girls under 16 years of age are expected to share, though a boy and a girl couple are expected to share till reaching their 10th birthday. A disabled tenant or partner will be allowed an extra bedroom, so long as he or she has a non-resident overnight carer. Also affected by this ruling are:

  • Separated parents who share caring responsibilities of their children;
  • Couples needing a spare bedroom for convalescence;
  • Foster cares (stepchildren not counted on Housing Benefit entitlement);
  • Parents whose children visit, whom are not part of the household;
  • Families with disabled children;
  • Disabled persons, including those living in adapted or specially designed homes.

All of the above points will have a great affect on the family unit. People who have former municipal homes or housing association properties will be forced against their will to move elsewhere – if they can find cheaper properties. A real fly in the ointment is the lack of suitable one bedroom dwellings, as a great number of properties have two or three bedrooms. Another one, is the lack of new social housing built in the last three years. Owing to lack of suitable housing – in public and private sector markets – rents are high. Even with the introduction of Housing Benefit caps, private landlords have continued to raise rents, pushing more people onto the streets or into less secure accommodation.

And, if you wish to take in a lodger, you will also be penalised if you claim Housing Benefit. Any income from a lodger, disregarding the first £20, will be taken into account. The reverse will apply if he or she is claiming Universal Credit (from Easter Monday onwards in Tameside, Wigan, Warrington and Oldham).

Cost isn’t the only factor: long term prospects such as access to work, decent public transport and local facilities also have a bearing as well as family life. The cheaper area he or she may be forced to move to probably has higher unemployment, inferior buses and a library which opens once a week (if one actually exists). Besides wrecking family life, the dual insecurities of reduced prosperity and a nomadic existence would have a negative affect on his or her life. Possibly one leading to an early grave through lack of fresh food, ill health or suicide. In another, more extreme context, this [the Bedroom Tax/Spare Room Subsidy] could be seen as ‘ethnic cleansing’ along with the Housing Benefit cap.

And of course, home, should be a safe place of sanctuary. A resting place. A diversion from tedium, be it work or job-hunting. A place to socialise. A place to live instead of exist on the margins. Sadly, present company in Westminster seem to favour the latter statement for no-one rich enough to accept their tax cut.

The Bedroom Tax also penalises families where one member works away from home for extended periods. For example, a family of four with a three bedroom house in for example, Derker (north east of Oldham) may lose 14% of their Housing Benefit if a member of the family’s in Afghanistan fighting on behalf of HM’s Government. Ditto the above if one member is studying at university and divides their time between student digs and their home.

Would the person fighting for Queen and Country, or the person wishing to better themselves (albeit with a five figure debt to follow) have their aspirations stymied by the loss of about £100 or so a month on their semi-detached home on Vulcan Street? The system ignores these complex matters, and as a result, is draconian and blatantly disregards anyone’s attempts at stable family life. Divorcees will be forced to stay in the same house through financial means, draining them emotionally as well as financially.

Furthermore, it stymies for instance the storage of specialist equipment for disabled persons. A young child on the autism spectrum may require a spare room if his or her parents have enrolled the child onto a Son Rise programme (where an extra room, free of distractions, is needed). The same person on the autism spectrum may need the spare room as a retreat from sensory distractions elsewhere at home. He or she may wish to have the Son Rise playroom converted into a quiet study area and, in a few years time, may wish to set up a home-based business.

The Bedroom Tax, besides being a ruse by the government to siphon off more money from the poor towards their multimillionaire mates, is also anathema to social mobility. Outside the home, it reduces the already stretched spending power of affected citizens even further. It prompts a shift towards eroding the social housing sector in favour of private landlords. Therefore, as well as the choice of heating and/or eating, our town centres will become even more sparse than at present, interrupted by Payday Loan shops, Bookmakers and discount stores.

Closer to Home

The constituency where I reside, Denton and Reddish, will see 1,292 citizens affected by the Bedroom Tax. This is likely to have the most profound effects in Haughton Green and Dukinfield, both of which have a high proportion of ex-municipal housing stock. Whilst Lord Snooty and His Pals gain a £100,000 tax cut, the metaphorical Gasworks Gang – us, the proletariat (should we claim Housing Benefit and happen to have one bedroom too many) – will lose £726 per annum. Though this seems like Lord Snooty’s bar bill, it is a substantial loss for affected fellows within my constituency. Any attempt to make up that shortfall would mean going into debt or trying to find suitable work – an almost impossible task if you happen to live in Dukinfield, Denton or Audenshaw (and of course the rest of Tameside outside my constituency).

Recent reports have stated that Greater Manchester would be the worst hit area for the Bedroom Tax. The last 60 years has seen an increase in social housing, a mix of inherited ex-municipal properties and housing association stock. The latter have formed part of regeneration schemes, intermingled with private housing stock. The former, thanks to the combined efforts of local authorities’ modernisation of existing housing stock and slum clearance projects.

Given the gravitational pull of Manchester city centre’s economy, this has made for expensive private rents, aimed at students and professional residents. Without social housing, a fair number of Greater Manchester’s residents would otherwise be priced out. Not only in South Manchester, but also in well-to-do areas such as Hale, Saddleworth and Worsley. Once forced away from social housing, their options would be reduced further, possibly leading to homelessness, squatting, moving to a care home or returning ‘home’ to parents.

After April…

Expect to see in the next year a rapid rise in homelessness, overcrowded properties, disabled persons being denied their independence and more depressed town centres. The number of appeals against Bedroom Tax, along with Housing Benefit claims will stretch the already slimmed down councils even further. People will die from either starvation or hypothermia. Foodbanks will be stretched even more (some are already close to running out of stocks just now!).

It was claimed the Spare Room Subsidy would be a solution to the UK’s housing shortage. There are more positive ways of solving the UK’s housing shortage besides a draconian ‘Bedroom Tax’, such as reviving the Pathfinder programme, postponed within weeks of the ConDems entering office. There should be incentives to allow the conversion of spare rooms into offices, which would allow employees to work from home and reduce carbon emissions caused by travel. Why stop at offices? What about a campaign to encourage the conversion of spare bedrooms into study rooms, art studios, playrooms, rehearsal space, home recording studios or libraries? How about a proper Mansion Tax, some of which could be used to fund social housing schemes?

In the short to medium term, we should channel our efforts towards the total abolition of the Spare Room Subsidy, and replace that with a Mansion Tax. Then, look towards introducing rent controls, creating what could be classed as a ‘Social Rent’. In the long term, we need a focused house building programme, a new generation of Homes Fit For Heroes with central heating, renewable energy and a charging point for electric cars in each garage – generated by solar panels or miniature windmills.

The Bedroom Tax is fundamentally flawed from start to finish, socially and fiscally, one which should have been strangled at birth. Socially, families will be broken. Fiscally, it’s a continuation of the ConDems’ Robin Hood in Reverse financial policies, one where Lord Snooty and His Pals suck the lifeblood of each and every centre besides their enclaves.

Mind the gap: Bunkerton Castle’s finest have made it much wider, and it is set to swell thanks to their economic incompetence.

S.V., 15 March 2013.

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