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Welfare Reform Bill highlights bedroom tax

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The Welfare Reform Bill has returned to the House of Commons this week for MPs to vote on the various proposals. The Government’s aim by introducing these proposals was to cut the annual housing benefit bill by £500 million a year. The proposals included a controversial ‘bedroom tax’ and benefits cap of £26,000 per year.

Ironically, these proposals were outvoted in September by the Lords in favour of a more watered down version – instead tenants would still receive full housing benefit if they have no more than one spare room or if no other suitable alternative accommodation is available. This move has to be applauded for the fact that fault for living in a property which is not proportionate to the tenant’s need cannot always lie with the tenant themselves.

In my opinion, the issue concerns local authority housing stock or rather the lack of it. The bedroom tax although sensible in theory does not quite work out the same in practice. Is there really enough alternative housing to give to tenants who have an extra bedroom? What about the difference between various councils and their supply of housing?

If tenants are already in accommodation which would fall under the bedroom tax – they would either have to seek alternatives or stay where they are and expect a cut in their housing benefit. This has been referred to as both ‘morally wrong’ and ‘not decent’ by Baroness Hollis. Clearly she has a point; surely it is not just the responsibility of the tenant to seek proportionate accommodation?

Particular concern lies with those groups considered vulnerable including the elderly and disabled.  The housing benefit system is complex at the best of times and in practice it is often found that clients tend not to question their benefit award simply because they do not know any differently. People often assume that the local authority has correctly calculated their allowance. With the addition of this bedroom tax, tenants may find that their benefits are reduced and they are unable to fathom out why.

By housing law specialist, Jayne Croft