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Catch 22 - bedroom tax, backing you into a corner

View profile for Joanne Ellis
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Catch 22 situation; ‘A situation in which a desired outcome is impossible to attain because of a set of inherently illogical rules or conditions’. In my view, perfectly describing that which has become known as the bedroom tax.

Imagine the situation; Mr ‘X’ has lived in a social registered 2 bedroom property for the past 5 years. He moved here when his relationship with his partner broke down. He was placed on the social housing waiting list, whilst living in hostel accommodation. Eventually he was provided with a 2 bed room property, despite only ever requesting the need for a 1 bedroom property. He has lived here for the past 5 years, with no problems. Mr X works 16 hours a week on minimum wage in a shop, grateful that he has a job at all in this economic climate.

His rent is £78.00 per week and before the introduction of the bedroom tax he was entitled to £62.91 Housing Benefit and maintained paying his shortfall of £15.09 per week. However, since April 2013 his entitlement to Housing Benefit has been reduced to £51.99 per week, leaving him with an increased shortfall of £26.01 per week. This is around 26% of Mr X’s weekly income and a considerable decrease to what he has previously budgeted for.

Mr X’s landlord appeared to be planning for these changes and came to visit him late 2012 to discuss his options. At this meeting he confirmed that he was more than happy to move into a 1 bedroom property. Unfortunately, though, his landlord has been unable to move him into a smaller property, as they simply don’t have the stock.

Mr X is now in arrears, for the first time during his tenancy, and has been threatened with possession proceedings, he has also been told that he will not be considered for a move whilst he has these arrears. Mr X now has a significantly reduced chance of being able to move into a smaller property which is within the social housing sector and furthermore the only way which he can move into the private sector is to raise enough money for a deposit. Mr X is likely to consider withholding his rent to use this money for a deposit as he will now think that there is no other possible solution. Not something which I would recommend, but something which I can see Mr X’s reasoning behind.

This, although may just be one scenario, is a more than common situation which I find myself listening to from our clients and it seems that this is not an unusual occurrence.

It's recently been revealed in the news, via information which was obtained when The TUC's False Economy campaign made Freedom of Information requests to all of Britain's councils, that one in three council tenants affected by the recent changes in Housing Benefit are behind on their rent since the implementation took place. Furthermore at least 50,000 council tenants, who were not previously in arrears, have now fallen into arrears since the bedroom tax came into effect this year.

The Department for Work and Pensions said they are “ensuring the extra funds to support vulnerable tenants are used well as these changes are introduced". However these extra funds, know as Discretionary Housing Payments have been all but exhausted within St Helens Council. False Economy campaign manager Clifford Singer confirmed this further and said ''The worst part is that these figures have been collated while councils' emergency Discretionary Housing Payments are still available; they are being used up at record speed and when they run out, these figures will only get worse,"

Out of 2511 social tenant households within the Manchester area affected by the Bedroom Tax, 805 households have arrears purely from the Bedroom Tax changes. Salford is considered one of the worst areas with 565 households out of 1371 which are affected by the bedroom tax being in arrears for the first time. This is a staggering 41%.

Now, take a breath, I understand the reasoning, albeit poor, behind the implementation of the bedroom tax, but what I don’t understand  is how the Government can think that this is a fair policy which will achieve the outcome which  it  is has been set to do.

The Government implemented the bedroom tax with the ideal to create a situation in which they could free up under occupied properties for families living in overcrowded conditions and reduce the Housing benefit spend. But, as there are not enough smaller properties to move people into, the rules and restrictions imposed in connection with the bedroom tax make this impossible to attain. All it does, to a vast majority, is lock the tenants in to their under occupied homes, create more arrears and increase the governments spend in other areas, such as homeless services. Therefore creating the catch 22 situation.

How will this evolve further? Only time will tell...

By Victoria Jordan, housing law team