The bedroom tax’s spiralling consequences have plunged over half of those affected by the new charges into arrears. The bedroom tax which was introduced in April 2013 applies a 14% deduction in housing benefit where the claimant lives in social housing and is deemed to have one spare bedroom and 25% reduction where they have two or more spare bedrooms.
According to a survey completed by the National Housing Federation, 51% of those affected by the bedroom tax have been unable to pay their rent between April and June 2013. Our experience is that landlords are issuing possession proceedings at an alarming rate and those with just a few hundred pounds of arrears find themselves pleading their case before the County Court Judges.
Whilst we have found many of the Judges to be quite sympathetic to those genuinely struggling to make up the shortfall in their Housing Benefit, the Court’s hands are tied where the tenant simply cant afford to pay the difference. Increasingly we are seeing this affect single people claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA). Take the example of a lady whose children have grown up and left the family home. She may have two spare bedrooms and have recently been made redundant in these tough economic times. Her only income is likely to be £71.70 per week JSA. Yet if her rent is £95 per week, her 25% shortfall which she needs to make up will be £23.75. This is approximately one third of her income and is almost impossible to do when also paying for food, utilities, transport costs etc. And how much is a bus or train pass these days to take her to a job interview? Never mind the ever increasing gas and electricity bills, particularly as winter approaches.
Unfortunately the Court has to consider a tenants income and expenditure when dealing with these cases and if it concludes that sadly the tenant simply can’t afford it, the only thing the Judge can do is to make the Possession Order and render the tenant homeless.
Many of those affected by the bedroom tax tell us they would be happy to move to somewhere smaller but the simple fact of the matter is that there aren't anywhere near enough one bedroom properties available. Many people are also prevented from transferring to smaller properties within their landlord's stock as most social landlords' policies on property exchange exclude tenants in rent arrears. The private sector offers no solution either with Local Housing Allowance capping the amount of help tenants can get with paying their rent and leaving a large shortfall, often greater than that payable under the bedroom tax.
Surely this cycle can’t go on for much longer?