Director of Policy and Communications
So the Government got its way, and the Welfare
Reform Bill will shortly become law, meaning that many tenants will
face the under-occupation penalty, aka ‘the bedroom tax’. Lord Best
led stout opposition to this unfair penalty in the House of Lords -
he deserves a huge ‘thank you’ on behalf of landlords and tenants
across the UK.
So what do we know?
One – from April 2013 working age social housing tenants
will have their housing benefit cut by an average of £14 per week
if they are deemed to be under-occupying their home in accordance
with a very ‘tight’ set of rules called the bedroom standard. There
are few exceptions.
Two – this will have a major
impact on tenants with disabilities, those on low incomes, and the
over 40s. Many of those affected will be longstanding, loyal
tenants, whose children have ‘flown the nest’.
Three – surveys tell us that
around one third of tenants will try and move, mainly to one
bedroom properties: far more than the Government is banking on.
However there is a national shortage of one bedroom council and
housing association homes and many tenants will have no choice but
to move into the more expensive private sector or stay put.
Four – the majority will stay
put. Surveys show that of those, nearly eight in ten are worried
about going into debt, and 40% fear they will soon accumulate rent
arrears. This will lead to loss of income for landlords – less to
spend on new homes and services - and increasing evictions and
Sadly all of these arguments have been put to
the Government, but have fallen on deaf ears. In the end it all
came down to money, and surely that is that! Well not quite.
Shortly the Government will spell out the details through laying
regulations before Parliament – if you like the small print.
Needless to say we will look at these very carefully, and ensure
they do not go beyond what Parliament has agreed, unfairly
penalising the type of tenants who need protection. The Government
has also promised a review of the under-occupation penalty once it
kicks in, and we need to make sure this is done quickly, thoroughly
The bedroom tax has been a massive campaigning
issue for Riverside, especially the 6,700 tenants who stand to lose
benefit. We have campaigned hard together, but now is the time to
move on, and turn our attention to supporting those who are at risk
because of the penalty. We are doing this in three ways:
· Improving our
data. We have spent the last year doing this and now have a pretty
clear idea which households are most at risk.
· Providing clear
information to tenants: existing and prospective. Whilst we don’t
want to alarm people, it is essential that those affected
understand the implications of the changes and what choices they
· Providing support
and advice, focusing on: opportunities for downsizing, where they
exist; ways of boosting income through our employment and money
advice services; and other alternatives such as taking in
None of this is easy, and tenants and staff
will need to steel themselves for difficult conversations over the
coming 12 months. The impact on communities could be profound, but
we will do all that we can to make sure that tenants have
information and sound guidance to help them make informed