Bedroom tax will put people on streets while homes go empty

The National Housing Federation ran a campaign against the ‘bedroom tax’ while the legislation was going through Parliament – but the government was blind to the concerns of this expert organisation.

By now you should know that you’ll be in financial trouble from April next year, if you receive housing benefit and the government decides you’ve got one or two too many bedrooms.

This applies to people who are working but on low pay, who must therefore claim housing benefit in order to keep a roof over their heads. This means it applies to 93 per cent of people who have claimed housing benefit since the Coalition government came to power (only seven per cent of claimants were unemployed).

It applies to separated parents who share the care of their children and who may have been allocated an extra bedroom to reflect this. Benefit rules mean that there must be a designated ‘main carer’ for children (who receives the extra benefit).

It applies to couples who use their ‘spare’ bedroom when recovering from an illness or operation.

It applies to foster carers, because foster children are not counted as part of the household for benefit purposes (this is particularly evil, in my view).

It applies to parents whose children visit but are not part of the household -although housholds where there is a room kept for a student studying away from home will not be deemed to be under-occupying if the student is away for less than 52 weeks (under housing benefit) or six months (under Universal Credit). Students are exempt from non-dependant deductions, but full-time students will not be exempt from the Housing Cost Contribution (HCC) which replaces non-dependent deductions under Universal Credit (more on this elsewhere in the article). Students over 21 will face a contribution in the region of £15 per week.

It applies to families with disabled children; and

It applies to disabled people, including those living in adapted or specially designed properties (again, this is evil, as it could mean these people will be required to leave that home for another one, with the added expense of having to re-install all the special adaptations).

Pensioners will not be affected – unless they are part of a couple and the partner is below pension age, after Universal Credit is introduced.

The size criteria that will be applied means housing benefit wil be restricted to allow for one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household. However:

Children under 16, who are either both boys or both girls, will be expected to share. This will undoubtedly create many family feuds as puberty is not known for its calming effect on young people.

Children under 10 will be expected to share, regardless of gender. Again, this will create problems for families. It is not a normal situation and it seems bizarre for the government to suggest that it should be.

On the ‘plus’ side, a disabled tenant or partner who needs a non-resident overnight carer will be allowed an extra bedroom for that carer.   If you have a ‘spare’ bedroom under the new rules, you will lose 14 per cent of your housing benefit; for two or more extra bedrooms, you’ll lose a quarter of your benefit. According to the government’s impact assessment, this means 660,000 people will lose an average of £14 per week (£16 for housing association tenants).

Now for the complications.

After Universal Credit is brought in, if only one member of a couple is over pension age, the bedroom tax will apply to the household. If one is receiving Pension Credit, they will be unaffected.

There are currently six different rates of ‘non-dependent deductions’ – amounts removed from housing benefit according to the earnings of people aged over 18 who live in a household but are not dependent on the tenant for financial support. This will become one flat-rate ‘housing cost contribution’ that will be deducted from housing benefit. It will not apply to anyone aged under 21.

Under UC, each adult non-dependent will get their own room, but each must pay the full, flat-rate housing cost contribution – unless aged under 21 and therefore exempt.

Under UC, lodgers will not get a room allowance but any income is disregarded. They will not count as occupying a room under size criteria rules. Currently any income is taken into account and deducted pound for pound from benefit, apart from the first £20. As this income is completely disregarded under UC, my best guess is that the government expects this amount to cover any loss in both housing benefit and Universal Credit. I have a doubt about that. Taking in a lodger will also affect home contents insurance policies, potentially invalidating them or raising the premiums.

Bedroom tax will not apply in joint tenancy cases.

Until UC comes in, benefits will be protected for up to 52 weeks after death; afterwards the run-on will be three months.

And until UC comes in, tenants will receive 13 weeks’ protection where they could previously afford the rent and housing benefit has not been claimed in the previous year; afterwards, the size criteria will apply immediately.   Pre-1989 tenancies are not exempt from the bedroom tax.

Those are the facts relating to this particular benefit change. There are others which will also affect your ability to keep your home, but – concentrating on this for a moment – you’re probably already screaming “What does it MEAN?” in frustration at your screen.

If you’re on a low income, aged over 40 with children who have left home, or disabled, you could be not only slightly but severely and unfairly affected. It seems likely you will have to choose to either pay the extra amount, or move. It seems likely that I will be in this category, so be assured that I sympathise completely with everyone else in the same situation.

And there will be many, many people who are. Surveys say around a third of tenants will try to move, mainly to one-bedroom properties. This is far more than the government has anticipated in its planning.

Here’s where things get suspicious: There is a national shortage of one bedroom council and housing association homes, meaning many tenants will have no choice but to move into the more expensive private sector or stay put – even though they will not be able to afford the extra costs.

The majority will stay put, but nearly eight-tenths (80 per cent) of those are worried about going into debt, with two-fifths (40 per cent) fearing they will accumulate rent arrears.

The evidence shows that, whether you move or stay put, landlords will lose income, which in turn means evictions and homelessness will increase. This is my belief. We will see a lot of people going homeless at the same time as a lot of houses go empty.

In fact, homelessness is already on the rise – as it always is under a Conservative government. According to the National Housing Federation – the umbrella organisation for housing associations in England – there has been a leap of nearly 50 per cent in the number of families forced into B&Bs. Between January and March this year, they totalled 3,960, compared with 2,750 during the same period in 2011. That number will escalate under the new legislation.

Any fool can see that this is madness. The logical choice has to be that people, who would otherwise go homeless, should be housed in buildings that would otherwise go empty.

But we are under the heel of a government that has little to do with sanity. The sane choice – in order to keep housing benefit payments down – is to cap rents at a particular, affordable, level. This way, landlords receive a steady amount of money, tenants keep their homes, and housing benefit remains manageable. But the government cannot tolerate this as it is deemed to be unwarranted interference in the market. Never mind the fact that the market could collapse if enough homes go empty! The idea is that the steady drive to increase rents will attract people rich enough to afford them. Again, one wonders where these people are and how they will be able to pay. Also, every price bubble eventually pops, so sooner or later – again – we’ll have a lot of homeless people on the streets while buildings go empty and (eventually) derelict.

Am I painting a depressing picture? Let’s add to the misery by reminding you that housing benefit is being withdrawn for everybody aged under 25. The assumption is that they will return to the family home if they can’t afford their rent – but that is a big assumption. There may be reasons they cannot do so (I’m sure you can imagine some for yourself). what do they do then? Housing benefit itself is being capped. And then there is the Localism Act and its effect on Council Tax payments. From responses to my previous article about the so-called ‘Pickles Poll Tax’, you will be able to see that some councils will add as much as 30 per cent of the council tax bill to the costs of those tenants who currently receive full council tax benefit, regardless of whether they can afford to pay. And has anybody said anything recently about the plan to cap all benefits at £500-per-week-per-household?

If you want to call on the government to axe the bedroom tax, there is an e-petition against it:

33 thoughts on “Bedroom tax will put people on streets while homes go empty

    1. Yvonne Lane

      There are several anomalies in this. It is left to the Landlord to define what an actual bedroom is – as there is no definition of a bedroom in law. So local councils / HA’s will decide on the number of bedrooms a property has. However, those that rent in the private sector may have a dining room on the ground floor. Although this is a spare room, the landlord has designated it a bedroom and therefore exempt from the tax. The tenant could put a bed in the aforesaid dining room and still be exempt from the tax.

      In addition, there is no consideration as to the size of a bedroom that children will be expected to share. There may well be a scenario whereby a teenager has to share a tiny box room with a baby, where across the road two same sex children under the age of ten share a double bedroom. What next? Taxed on the number of square feet we occupy? Or a return to the window Tax.

  1. Mike Sivier

    Barbara Mayo raises an excellent point on the Vox Facebook page. She writes: “THIS IS JUST the stick that might beat this government, peoplehave spent thousands, on there homes,over the years theyve been there, SHAME ON THEM.”

  2. Lesley Wendy Crosby

    I was fortunate if thats the correct phraseology to be ill enough to qualify for down sizing to a one beddroomed adapted bungalow from my three bedded gas guzzling swiss cheese of a council house I live alone and couldnt afford to exist prior to all these changes My heart goes out to all those still in that situation. my mental health deteriarated due to the stress of no money/no heat/ no food and that in turn aggravatedmy physical health problems plus of course i had the usual ATOSities to deal with !!

    I only hope now that the Localities tax will like the Poll tax bring down this government like it brung down the last Conservative PM

    1. Mike Sivier

      “Atosities” – there’s a word to remember. Margaret Thatcher was the last but one Conservative PM – John Major followed her; but I don’t think anyone here will take issue with the sentiment. I hope the Localism Act is a step too far for them, as well.

  3. Victoria Brown

    This will massively impact most on the women now in their 50s who are divorced. Chances are they are the same women who have struggled and raised children alone on either benefits or very low income jobs and because that child has flown the nest that is the reason they now have a spare room. We are alone and childless with no purpose and soon no home too. Many will kill themselves rather than live on the streets or commit a crime to at least get prison accommodation because there are no 1 bedroom properties for us to downsize in to and there is no spare cash if you are on benefits to pay the Bedroom Tax with.

  4. Penny L

    I do not see why students should have two homes while young people who lose their job or tenancy will have no home to return to. Also. many third bedrooms are really box rooms with no space for furniture apart from a child-size bed.

    1. Mike Sivier

      Students who live in halls of residence during term-time would have nowhere to live at all, if they didn’t have the room at home, so I imagine this is to ensure the government doesn’t get accused of forcing students onto the street. That would be terrible publicity, especially as it now seems Mr Willetts got his sums wrong when it came to the cost of tuition fees and the date when they would be paid back.

  5. julie searle

    i have 3 at home 13, 18 and 21. eldest is employed though on reduced hours and minumum wages. myself and 18 year old are unemployed. i will have to move 3 times. over the years i have lived in my housing association home every spare penny has been spent making life easier for me with my health issues. im to the point where i think whats the point and just sit and cry. they arent just houses they are our homes its not our fault we werent lucky enough to be born with silver spoons in our mouths. i challenge any of this jumped up government to live the lives of the ordinary person.

  6. Tony Bennet

    There are times I feel like giving up, the more I read about these changes the more I see it will affect us and we will be lucky to keep our home. With the changes to DLA and the UC I can’t see how I will be able to pay our bills and feed us.

    However, I won’t give up, I’ll fight this injustice with my last breath if necessary, I won’t quietly disappear, no matter how much it would suite this evil and immoral ramble of a government.

  7. Joanna Terry

    Not only is there an issue with the amount of one bed properties available, (none where i live) but what about those just below pension age that need to sleep in seperate bedrooms because of their health (I have a friend like this). You can’t force people like this, not without causing phenomenal stress but this government are officially insane, Cameron no doubt cares nothing about his ownership of several properties as well as the state supported one in Downing Street. They really are lower than vermin, in fact I actually like rats, very intelligent creatures compared to this government.

  8. Paul Farmer

    I think you’ve made a mistake. The percentage reductions aren’t percentages of your housing benefit, but of your gross rent, i.e. the rent before benefits. The figures we have is this means a reduction in benefit of £21 per week with one ‘spare’ room, £29 with two.

    1. Mike Sivier

      It’s possible. The way I read it was that it was a reduction in the percentage of your rent that is actually supported by the benefit but the verbiage was quite dense. It seemed to make sense to me, in that reducing your benefit as a percentage of your entire rent seems entirely unfair as you are not (necessarily) getting your entire rent paid. Reducing that part of it that is supported by the benefit by a particular percentage seemed more reasonable.
      Having said that, the more I think about it, the more complicated it gets. Rents are different all over the country, therefore the percentage of rents that is supported by housing benefit must also come to different amounts so, by it’s own ‘flat-rate’ preferences, this can’t even look right to the Tories!
      Or maybe I’ve been looking at the figures for far too long and should go to bed.

      1. Mike Sivier

        “A fixed percentage of the housing benefit eligible rent”. I read it as meaning “…of that amount of the rent that was eligible to be covered by housing benefit” but it could equally well be “…of the full amount of a rent that is eligible to be part-covered by housing benefit”.
        Does anybody have a less ambiguous version of the rules?

      2. Paul Farmer

        Hello Mike. I’m trying to find out notification letter from Cornwall Council so I can quote you chapter and verse, but that will have to wait till morning. Unfair, in fact disgusting, even evil, it definitely is, but they work out the percentage on our gross rent, then deduct it from housing benefit. This will effectively wipe out housing benefit entirely for many people.
        There is no legitimate rationalisation for this. They also previously introduced the ‘market rent’ criterion for new tenancies. If they had introduced these two measures the other way round, they could claim (though spuriously) they were trying to free up under-occupied council houses. But now the rent on a single bedroomed old person’s bungalow will conceivably be more than that of the three-bedroomed house that was rented under the old tenancy agreements. So we cant afford to move to smaller accommodation.
        We are indeed going to see people having to move out of council accommodation because they cant afford the rent. If they then go into bed and breakfast, how are they going to get out again? They won’t be able to move into another council house because they won’t be able to afford the rent. This is not only immoral, it’s insane.

      3. farmerfilm

        Found our notification letter from Cornwall Council. In a section headed ‘How much will this cost me?’ it says the following: “If you have one spare bedroom, your Housing Benefit will be cut by 14% of your GROSS WEEKLY RENT [my emphasis]. If you have two or more spare bedrooms, your housing benefit will be cut by 25% of your GROSS WEEKLY RENT.”
        Incidentally the letter makes no distinctions between students and others. It says ‘If you have an extra bedroom(s) for children who don’t live with you full time, the Government will count this as a spare bedroom and your benefit will be cut.’.

  9. Mike Sivier

    I think some of the providers are confused also – I just read a press release from Bromford group saying people’s housing benefit entitlement will be cut by the percentages I’ve named – that means the amount of benefit people will receive, clearly.

    I think the government might need to prepare its own spare rooms for Mr Cock-Up…

  10. Mike Sivier

    Paul’s comment, above, about Cornwall Council doesn’t surprise me in the least. Way back in the 1990s I went to Cornwall College to learn Journalism. “Oh, THAT’s why he’s the way he is!” I hear you cry. Well, bear with me. Cornwall Council tried to refuse my housing benefit application (you see, this story is relevant), flying in the face of what I’d been told before I took the course – I was on one of those special packages to get unemployed people into a useful career.
    So you see, that authority has a poor history when it comes to housing benefit.
    If you’re wondering what I did, I should think the answer is obvious. I sent a letter warning the council that I was studying to be a newspaper reporter, along with a few cuttings from a local paper for which I’d been writing, and asked if they wanted a bit of publicity.

  11. Mike Sivier

    I should probably add that I was contacted on Twitter by a gentleman who says I’m overdramatising the risk, and that it is extremely unlikely that a social housing provider will be able to evict anyone solely because they are in arrears with their rent.
    He did, however, agree with me that it would also be a bad thing for tenants to get into a superlative amount of debt, which seems to be the only option available, other than moving to one of the many nonexistent one-bedroom properties that successive governments haven’t built with the receipts from council house sell-offs.

  12. Jan

    “On the ‘plus’ side, a disabled tenant or partner who needs a non-resident overnight carer will be allowed an extra bedroom for that carer.”

    Mike, are you sure this is right?

    It is my understanding that this was one of the amendments put forward by the House of Lords, but was DEFEATED in the Hof C vote.

    I think this DOES affect disabled people who need an overnight carer, even if it is every night.

    The letter from my LA (same as yours) specifies only 1 bedroom is allowed, for a “non resident carer” Could you check, please?

  13. Nigel Sotelo

    I think it is important for every resident of this country to recognise that claiming benefits from your government is not mandatory. There are billions of real people around the world left to die by their leaders through deprivation of their basic necessities. Let us not forget those citizens in certain Arabic countries who are being actively exterminated by their governments.

    I am not advocating this political decision but I think in times of personal hardship it is important to consider your current state relative to your peers. There is no guarantee that benefits will not be revoked completely within your lifetime, so thankfully we still have something.

    1. Mike Sivier

      You’re right – claiming benefits isn’t mandatory and many millions of pounds worth of benefits go unclaimed each year.
      Looking at it from the government’s point of view, it’s probably unfortunate that David Cameron claimed DLA for his son Ivan, when he did not need the benefit. He was within his rights to do it but, because claiming statutory benefits is not mandatory and he could afford to go without, he was making a statement by doing so.
      Mr Cameron’s example provides many people with the perfect reason for claiming benefits themselves, even if they don’t need to. If it was good enough for him, they’ll say, it’s good enough for us.
      And rightly so!

  14. pat cross

    copy of email i sent to my MP, re bedroom tax, on the 11/11.
    Still waiting for a reply.
    Dear Ms Mcvey
    After reading your response to your letter re bedroom tax, Wirral globe 6th Nov, would you be willing to read the comments left for you, and respond to them.
    As you must be aware I have wrote to you on several occasions regarding the impact this bedroom tax is going to have on the many thousands of families affected by this tax, myself included, it seems to me that you still have a conflict of interest in supporting the governments stance on this issue, instead of your obligation to us your constituents who elected you in to government to represent us, do you not realise that people up and down the country are resorting to food banks to survive whilst councils are panicking as the struggle to deal with the rising numbers of homeless whilst preparing for the mess that is coming in April 2013.
    The Tories never had a mandate to drive through such punitive destructive measures – and what do they do the minute they grasp power? Become a minority government strutting across our democracy like absolute rulers. The Lib Dems never had it in their manifesto that they wanted to prop up the most extreme right wing government of all time – signing pledges not to increase tuition fees that get ripped up and flung from their ministerial cars. People who gave both parties the benefit of the doubt at the last election now know they were lied to big time and have turned away from them in droves – uncaring, out of touch, incompetent yet with an arrogant sneering sense of entitlement to rule that this country hasn’t seen since Victorian times –
    This is an Orwellian approach to social engineering. What next,Eugenics?
    You stated that taxpayers are paying too much for benefits?
    The TAXPAYER IS PAYING YOU TOO MUCH HOUSING BENEFIT for your london flat £18,140,00 for 2011/2012
    then there are your : Business Costs off £27,332.54
    not to mention your ministerial salary of at least £145,492 you will earn as a cabinet minister.
    Total cost, £190,964.54p
    It,s a hell of a lot of money Ms McVey, that you expect the tax payer to pay you especially in this time of austerity (we are all in this together).
    Do you think it is FAIR that people who earn the minimum wage, who receive some help with housing benefit will lose that same benefit if they have spare bedrooms, and they are subsidising your £ 18,140.00 rent for your london flat.
    AND THEN NOT TO MENTION THE UNEMPLOYED, how on earth does your government expect the unemployed to make up the difference out of their benefits to pay the bedroom tax?. When you require help from the taxpayer to pay for your accommadation
    The government could build work/poorhouses for all us soon to be homeless.

  15. Helen Georgina Carr

    My daughter lives with her father but we got the flat from the council {2 bed} when we were together. My daughter says that she wants to come home {she turns 13 in July, which means that she can walk straight home} but because we went through a court and he has residency and parental rights he can tell her that she cannot come home and that she would have to go through the courts yet again to be able to come home. Why should a 13 yr old child be made to make this kind of decision because of what a politician has laid down? My daughter regularly cries about there not being enough space in the house where her and her father, his new parner and her 3 children live. (3 bed house, parents in one room, single boy in another and 3 girls under 13 in the last}. How can the government see so many children MADE to make these types of choices everyday? I keep my second bedroom as MY DAUGHTER’S room while I am in the second of a council flat. I struggle to pay my bills now, and am left in minus figures as it is…………. where am I going to find a further £14 per week to pay for my daughters room? Will the politicians pay it? NOT RUDDY LIKELY!!!!!

  16. Macs

    £71 per week on jobseekers -£18pw gas/electric, -£14pw bedroom tax, -£7pw tv license, £5pw council tax, £2pw house insurance, add a few other odds and end and most people will be left with next to nothing for food – TV, Insurance and not to mention the phone/internet (which both helped to find me a job) will be gone if i was still on benefits. According to THE JOBSEEKERS award notice, it says the government says you need £71 ???? to live on, surely they are breaking their own law by introducing another tax on the poor? time to rise people and take to the streets, this government should be taken to task for murdering its own people.

  17. Mike Sivier

    Since this was written, the government has clarified that couples in which one member is of pensionable age will both be exempt from the Bedroom Tax. But couples of mixed age claiming for the first time under Universal Credit will have to wait until both are of pensionable age before being exempted from the charge.

  18. Daniela Rosa

    I live in scotland and a full time student, 22 years of age and I live at home, and my mother is on ESA. Does that mean I may have to pay HCC????

  19. WilkinsonB

    properties will go to people who actually need them may stop people claiming benefits and work for a living in stead of sponging off of the goverment.

    1. Mike Sivier

      You don’t seem to understand what’s going on here.
      Firstly, properties HAVE been going to people who actually needed them – social housing is allocated according to a set of rules that determine who gets what accommodation. The unfortunate fact is that, since successive governments have failed (in the Conservatives’ case, refused) to build new properties to replace those that have been sold off (mostly by the Conservatives), people have been unable to move to smaller accommodation when that became appropriate – it simply wasn’t there. That’s a failure of the government, not the tenants.
      The people who you are claiming don’t need the houses they are occupying actually don’t have anywhere else to go – they can’t afford private rented accommodation and there aren’t any smaller social homes for them to occupy (or at least, not enough)
      Secondly, nobody on benefits is “sponging off the government” – that’s OUR money; it doesn’t belong to anyone else. The number of people who are cheating the taxpayer is tiny – less than one per cent of the total. The government is doing nothing about this kind of cheating – its measures are designed to affect everybody, whether they are abiding by the rules or not.
      Finally, if you want people to work for a living, could you please point them all towards the huge volume of jobs you must know about, of which everybody else is unaware? In case you haven’t noticed, there aren’t enough jobs around. I heard yesterday about a new branch of a chain-café opening up with eight jobs available; it received thousands of applications. That is the reality of the situation. The overwhelming majority of unemployed people do want to pay their own way. Their problem is a government whose policies have stifled growth and employment ever since it came into power.
      I hope this information helps you. Please pass it on to anyone else who makes similar, uninformed claims.

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