Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Bedroom Tax

A/N: Repost from my old work blog, originally written in July 2013.

What is the 'Bedroom Tax'? 

Not technically a tax, the 'bedroom tax' is the popular name for the latest change to housing benefit entitlement. If you live in a RSL (registered social landlord, ie. council or housing association) owned property and have a spare room, you are now required to subsidise that under-occupation by taking a cut to your housing benefit. One spare bedroom will lose you 14% of your housing benefit entitlement. Two or more spare bedrooms will cost you 25%.

This video from Charter Housing (Cardiff) explains the details of what constitutes a spare bedroom. 

Why is it a bad thing? 

Where to start...

£16 a week might be nothing to a MP earning £65,387 a year - it's likely even less for the Prime Minister who is estimated to be worth around £4 million, and who is set to inherit another £25 million. But for some of the people who are being penalised by this policy £16 quite literally represents the difference between eating and not eating. Bron Afon, the RSL who Torfaen's council housing stock was transferred to, have formed an arrangement with food banks based in Newport to provide food packages for tenants who simply cannot afford to feed themselves. Bron Afon's Chief Executive, Duncan Forbes, told the Argus: "In 2013 no one should be relying on a food parcel to feed themselves." He isn't wrong.

The government's own guidance on ways to cushion the impact of these cuts appears to have been thought up by someone with a complete and total lack of understanding of the issues they are talking about.

'Get a job' is touted as an idea you might not have thought of to enable you to live without housing benefit. Yet more than 90% of new housing benefit claimants since 2010 have been people in employment. You could 'ask for a raise', certainly, because employers are raking it in right now and better jobs are easy enough to find. Oh, wait, already this year 38 medium to large retail employers alone have gone, or are on the verge of going, into administration. Competition for jobs is inevitably fiercer - the government again is apparently oblivious to the fact that the worst affected by HB cuts will be those very people who will most struggle to find work. The young, the over 50s, single parents, the ill and the disabled. The very same people who some like Conservative MP Philip Davies believe should be willing to work for far less than the minimum wage in the first place! 

Another government suggestion is to take in a lodger. Yes, that's right. Vulnerable care leavers, young children, people with debilitating physical and/or mental illnesses - and still more - are being encouraged to share their homes with strangers. You would need a CRB (criminal records bureau) check to be able to take a job that involved working with children or vulnerable people, but to sleep in the next bedroom you need not undergo any checks at all. As a final kick, if your lodger pays you more than £20 a week the excess will affect your benefits and you'll likely be worse off than you were before.

It is worth remembering, of course, that if you are lucky enough not to need to claim housing benefit, you will face no penalties, irrespective of the number of spare bedrooms in your home.

Torfaen Council's info sheet on the bedroom tax can be found HERE.

What can you [realistically] do? 

Downsize. If you are willing to move, this could be a viable option. Bron Afon have set up a facebook page to help people who want a housing swap. Sadly, the effectiveness of swapping depends heavily on the areas involved. In Blaenavon, for example, most households are under occupied but there is a severe shortage of one bed properties. Bron Afon estimates that it will take 17 years to rehouse all Blaenavon tenants looking to downsize!

Look for financial assistance. Torfaen Council are able to offer Discretionary Housing Payments, subject to individual circumstances. This link provides information on how to apply. You can also contact Bron Afon's bedroom tax team for help on finding ways to make your money stretch further.

Do not feel you are alone. 1,500 households across Torfaen are affected by this. Here are some of their stories.

More importantly, do not give in. 88% of Bron Afon tenants affected by the bedroom tax are currently in rent arrears - a mass eviction on that kind of scale would be in nobody's interests! Just make sure you are sticking to your repayment plan. If you are having difficulties, get an appointment with the CAB (Citizen's Advice Bureau) or other advice agency to try and find a solution as soon as you can. 

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