A letter to the Swindon Advertiser

‘Bedroom Tax’ – tenants pushed from pillar to post

In reply to Justin Tomlinson’s ‘challenge’ (Swindon Advertiser, ‘Bedroom Tax is not working’) we know that there are people living in over-crowded accommodation. However, unlike Justin we don’t think the solution is to set different tenants at each other’s throats as if some of them were the cause of the problems of the others. The responsibility for the housing shortage rests on the shoulders of politicians, both Tory and Labour, who since 1980 have created a shortage of Council homes by selling them on the cheap and refusing to build replacements.

If Justin is really concerned about families in over-crowded accommodation then why does he support government policy which sells family homes on the cheap? Last year three quarters of Council homes sold in Swindon under ‘right to buy’ were 3 or 4 bed properties. The government is now proposing to encourage the sale of even more homes by cutting the qualifying period from 5 to 3 years. If the Council has at its disposal less and less homes then the only result will be that those on the waiting list will have to wait for longer.

When it introduced the ‘under-occupation’ regulations (aka ‘bedroom tax’) the government knew very well that there were insufficient smaller homes for tenants facing HB cuts to move into. Swindon has more smaller homes than some towns, yet only around 140 households affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ have moved thus far. This still leaves more than 800 households having to pay 14% or 25% of their rent from the pittance that they are expected to live on. These people are not responsible for the shortage of Council housing. Why should they be penalised for the failure of politicians to build any? Most of them have worked all their lives, paid tax and national insurance. They are victims of redundancy, ill-health, disability, or in the case of those working, jobs which pay wages so low that they qualify for housing benefit. Only those of working age have been picked on.

The ‘bedroom standard’ which determines the number of bedrooms that families ‘need’ bears no relationship to real life experience. For example, a family of 2 parents and 2 children, a boy and a girl both under ten, would be pushed from pillar to post. If they live in a 3 bedroom house, it is deemed ‘too big’ for them and they would have to move into a 2 bed house to avoid a cut in their housing benefit. Yet as soon as one of the children reaches ten they qualify for a 3 bed house. When one of the children leaves home they would have to move back into a 2 bed house again. When the final child leaves homes the couple would have to ‘downsize’ to a 1 bed flat. If the children are the same sex then they qualify for an extra bedroom when the first one turns 16. Does it make sense to impose so many moves on families? There is a lot of expense associated with moving to different size properties. It would be disruptive of their lives and unfair.

Despite the pressure of the ‘bedroom tax’, a policy designed to pressure people into smaller homes of which there are too few, or into jobs which are hard to come by, the waiting list continues to rise. The latest Swindon housing figures available are from October of last year. Between April of 2013, when the ‘bedroom tax’ was implemented, and October, the number of people on the waiting list and the transfer list for 1 bed, 2 bed and 3 bed properties, has continued to rise. The numbers of the transfer list (existing Council or Housing Association tenants) have also continued to rise.

This proves what we have said all along, that the ‘bedroom tax’ would have a marginal impact on the housing shortage. Instead of making the lives of some tenants a misery, forcing people out of their homes and their communities against their will, perhaps our MPs could concentrate their efforts on the very thing that needs to be done to tackle the housing shortage. I refer to the need for a new round of Council house building. Are they in favour of building new Council housing or are they happy to see the rising generation forced to live in the private rented sector with exorbitant rents and higher housing benefit payments?

Martin Wicks

Secretary Swindon Tenants Campaign Group

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