The UK government is introducing a wide range of welfare reforms, one of the measures which took effect on April 1st 2013 is a reduction in housing benefit for social housing tenants of working age who are deemed to be under-occupying their home. This has become popularly known as the “Bedroom Tax”.
Ministers argue the changes will encourage people to downsize to smaller properties, and in doing so, help cut the £23bn annual bill for housing benefit, free up living space for overcrowded families, and encourage people to get jobs.
This change to Housing Benefit Entitlement means tenants receive less in housing benefit if they live in a housing association or council property that is deemed to have one or more spare bedrooms. Having one spare bedroom means that tenants lose 14% of their entitled housing benefit and having two or more spare bedrooms means a loss of 25%.
It is estimated that 3500 Council tenants have been affected by this reform and have had their housing benefit reduced by between £10 per week (if they are under-occupying by one bedroom) and £20 per week (if they are under-occupying by two bedrooms). They are required to make up this shortfall from other income.
The situation is particularly difficult in Bristol because of the shortage of affordable housing in particular one-bedroom properties for those who want to be rehoused in a property with sufficient rooms to meet their needs. The range of current mitigation measures include budgeting advice, financial help through the Discretionary Housing Payments fund and assistance with moving.
On March 20th the Mayor George Ferguson announced “that the Council will not evict any tenants for arrears they build up due to a genuine inability to pay this new sum until a cross-party working group has had time to examine the issue and propose a sustainable way forward.”
The Council has now called on the Mayor
- to commit to a continuation of the ‘no eviction’ policy he announced in April for those impacted by this legislation;
- to instruct Housing Officers to review our local definition of a ‘bedroom’ and re-classify all small box rooms of small upstairs rooms as ‘non bedrooms’;
- to instruct Housing Officers to ensure no second rooms on ground floors are considered to be a bedroom but are categorised as an extension of general living space;
The cross-party working group which the Mayor mentioned has been meeting since July to gain an understanding of the issues and review the social and economic impact on individuals, households, communities, organisations effected by the legislation. Once they have considered the evidence they will report their recommendations to the Mayor.
The group is keen to hear from the general public about how they have been affected by the under-occupancy charge and what measures the Council and its partners could introduce to mitigate its effects.