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An open letter to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister about the impact of the bedroom tax on our tenants.

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Publish date : 2 April 2013

Dear Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg 

This week 7,000 Riverside tenants are faced with the bedroom tax – or, if you prefer, the withdrawal of the spare room subsidy. Between them they will see their housing support reduced by £5 million over the next year. The vast majority are decent tenants, trying to do the best for themselves and their families. Many have never been in rent arrears or debt before, their circumstances just happened to have changed as children have flown the nest – it happens to most of us.

We are not against the bedroom tax – something more needs to be done about under-occupation in a time of housing shortage and overcrowding. But let’s get this in proportion – Government figures show that around 7% of households in social housing are overcrowded, whilst over 40% under-occupy in accordance with the new bedroom standard. It is the draconian definition of under-occupation that we think is wrong, because it is so out of step with how people live in Britain. In fact if the bedroom standard is applied to all of us, around 70% fail the test. That can’t be right.

All sorts of households are now facing a big cut to their incomes. For Andrew, one of our single tenants living in Wirral who is desperate to find a job, this amounts to a staggering quarter of his disposable weekly income after heating costs and water rates. Most of those affected are precisely the people Government should be helping ‘get on’ rather than ‘get out’: families with teenage children who need their own bedrooms to enable them to study; fathers who have split from their partners and are trying to do the right thing by sharing responsibility for bringing up their children; grandparents who are helping their own children to work by providing low cost childcare for their grandchildren. In addition there are the thousands of tenants who are now deemed to be able to share, when the reality is that they need to sleep in separate rooms as a result of disability or illness.

These are not minor exceptions that can be regulated away, or helped with small amounts of discretionary payments. Rather they illustrate that the line has been drawn in the wrong place. And we need to be careful in drawing comparisons with the high rent private sector. Social housing has a different job to do. As subsidised housing we should expect it to do more than provide roofs over heads. It should act as a foundation – a place where families can thrive and seek opportunities to do better. This needs a little bit of modest space.

So we implore you to revisit the definition, allowing one extra bedroom. By doing so, the scale of the impact will reduce by 80%, bringing to a halt the panic that is now beginning to unfold as reality bites. We will also be able to support those under-occupiers that need our attention most - in fact, those who are in danger of not even getting a look in: the elderly.

Yours sincerely

 

Carol Matthews

Group Chief Executive, Riverside