Thousands of people across the North were already waiting to downsize before the bedroom tax came into force.
Almost 40,000 households across the North of England were on the waiting list for one-bedroom social homes just as the so-called Bedroom Tax came into force – half the total number of households on the list.
It compares with just 22% of households on the waiting list who were hoping for a social home with more than four bedrooms.
The controversial tax, which has reduced housing benefit available to families deemed to have extra bedrooms, was brought in by the coalition in April 2013.
Opponents warned at the time that people had ‘spare’ bedrooms only because of a lack of available smaller properties following years of councils selling off their social housing stock.
Now, figures reveal a chronic shortage of smaller homes in the North of England leaving thousands of households unable to move out of larger homes.
Meanwhile, they continue to be hit with cuts to their housing benefits despite major opposition to the policy.
Labour MPs across the North have reacted with fury at the figures, which they say highlight their concerns that thousands have been unfairly hit with the “pernicious” and “ideological” bedroom tax thanks to government failure to build enough homes.
Among them, Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery slammed the bedroom tax which he claimed was making the most vulnerable pay for the shortage of housing across the region.
“It’s a complete and utter bottleneck where families can not move because the homes are not available. They are then subject to this pernicious tax while they are struggling to make ends meet at this moment in time anyway.
“The government knew the consequences of this. They did understand and they still pushed ahead with this. The election can not come quick enough for these people.”
And Blaydon MP Dave Anderson said the figures dispel a myth about people who are being hit by the bedroom tax.
He said: “This blows the myth out of the water and Labour will be rid of it. It was a pretence and a myth right down the lines about people having too many bedrooms.
“There simply aren’t enough one-bedroom properties for people to move into. It’s nonsense. These are people, human beings in houses they have been living in 40 years. We’re talking about them as if they’re subhumans. It’s a disgrace.”
And Hartlepool MP Iain Wright, who was housing and planning minister from 2007 to 2009, said that housing supply had failed to keep up with a changing society that was seeing an aging population with more people moving to one-bedroom properties as partners passed away and children left home.
But he denied that Labour had been part of the problem or that they too had failed to ensure enough homes were built.
He said: “I would strongly disagree with that. We knew in full terms about the changing society. That’s why we needed to build more homes because we understand people are living longer and more people are living in one-person households.
“This government will have been aware of that too, and yet they still impose this grossly unfair tax. They know they don’t have the properties, they knew all along the difficulties this would” cause.”
And he added: “Where are the priorities with this government? It is not with people in the North who are suffering with housing problems. It’s about indifference – they don’t care about communities in Hartlepool.”
But a government spokesperson said the government was committed to building new homes across England and claimed ending the spare room subsidy had been a “necessary” move.
She added: “Nearly 217,000 affordable homes have been delivered in England since April 2010. Our affordable homes programme is on track to deliver 170,000 new affordable homes between 2011 and 2015, with £19.5 billion of public and private funding.
“We have also given the North East of England £13.8m since 2013 to support vulnerable people affected by welfare reforms and there has been a 12% fall in the number of people in the North East affected by the policy, as tenants take action.
“Ending the spare room subsidy was absolutely necessary to get the soaring housing benefit bill under control, return fairness to the system and make better use of social housing stock.
“Every day the policy saves taxpayers over £1m.”
The North MPs were joined in their criticism by Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland, and Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland. All five reiterated Labour’s pledge to abolish the bedroom tax if they win this year’s election.
The party became one step closer to delivering the promise in September 2014, when Labour and the Liberal Democrats came together to voted in favour of a bill brought in by Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George.
If passed, it will mean the bedroom tax will not apply unless a tenant has been offered a different property and has refused to move.
> Hmmm…call me a cynic, but might that not just be circumvented by offering absolute shitholes that no-one wants to live in, then penalizing people for not wanting to live in them.
But prime minister David Cameron has shown no sign of revoking the policy, while a government spokesperson said it was saving the taxpayer £1m every day.
Tory MPs have been accused of a timewasting plot to save the bedroom tax– and threatened with an all-night sitting to defeat them.
The Bill that would scrap the measure for most people affected has begun its committee stage, with its supporters hopeful of success before next May’s general election.
It would ease the pain for thousands of households in the North-East, who have lost housing benefit after being deemed to have spare bedrooms – but who are unable to ‘downsize’.
But Conservative MPs on the committee are guilty of “snide tactics” to get it bogged down in irrelevant debate, said the Bill’s Liberal Democrat sponsor.
Meanwhile, No.10 is trying to slam on the brakes by refusing to grant the “money resolution” required by any backbench Bill, Andrew George said.
Now Mr George has vowed to defeat the timewasting when the committee sits again next Wednesday, to ensure the bedroom tax moves closer to the axe before Christmas.
He told The Northern Echo: “The Tories are trying every snide tactic in the book to stop my Bill – points of order to delay the start and amendments to get the committee meeting on a different day.
“But we will sit through the night next week if we have to and show we have more stamina than they have. They can bring their sleeping bags.
A money resolution is normally granted “within days”, Mr George said, but had still not been granted – yet the Bill cleared its first stage way back on September 5.
The Affordable Homes Bill would end the removal of the so-called ‘spare room subsidy’ from disabled tenants and those who cannot be found a smaller home – the vast majority.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that just two per cent of County Durham tenants affected had moved to a smaller home – just 21 of 1,009 households.
At that point, in April, 417 of the remaining tenants had been plunged into arrears after losing up to 25 per cent of their housing benefit, an apparent insight into the hardship caused, And North-East town halls have shelled out almost £6.5m in emergency help after being hit by the ‘bedroom tax’, running out of Government funds.
Mr George named Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) and David Nuttall (Bury North) as the Conservative MPs carrying out the filibustering.
The Northern Echo attempted to speak with the pair, but no-one answered the telephone in Mr Nuttall’s office.
Mr Rees-Mogg denied he was timewasting, insisting it was not possible to debate the Bill before the money resolution came forward – something which was out of his control.
The MP said: “The committee is being held too early. It is a waste of parliamentary time until the money resolution is available. It is procedurally impossible.”
Source – Northern Echo, 24 Oct 2014
Fears over the bedroom tax led a Middlesbrough grandmother to commit arson in her own home, a court heard today.
Margaret Rae, 62, set fire to a cloth by placing it over a candle that was burning in her bookcase in the Pallister Park home where she has lived for 58 years.
When the fire took hold, causing £850 worth of damage in the living room, she got frightened and went into the garden, the court heard.
A neighbour raised the alarm and Rae admitted starting the fire at her childhood family home in Delarden Road, where she had taken over the Erimus Housing tenancy from her parents.
Teesside Crown Court heard Rae, who has no previous convictions, had been drinking in the home on the afternoon of April 5, before setting the fire.
When interviewed, Rae was said to be “distressed” and “angry about the bedroom tax,” prosecutor Jenny Haigh told the court.
The so-called bedroom tax – the Government’s spare room subsidy – was going to cost her an extra £30 a week for the three-bedroom home and she feared she may have to leave as she couldn’t afford it.
Ms Haigh told the court this was “playing on her mind” when she started the fire.
Rae, who the court heard has a history of depression, said she didn’t think the other houses, attached to the end terrace property in a block of six, could be affected, but admitted arson being reckless as to whether life would be endangered.
She said she had only meant to set the cloth alight but the bookcase took light and she got frightened.
The fire was quickly brought under control by firefighters and no neighbouring houses were affected.
Robert Mochrie, defending, began his address by telling his honour Judge John Walford that the Government had been “relentless in the austerity measures” in recent years.
But the judge interrupted saying the courtroom was “not a political platform” adding: “It is clear from the psychiatric report that whatever political persuasions you may have, this can’t be laid at the door of the Government or its proposals.”
> Because they only introduced the bedroom tax. Nothing to do with them, guv. The judge has spoken.
Sentencing her to 18 months in prison, suspended for two years, with a supervision requirement, alcohol treatment programme and £100 costs, Judge Walford said he was confident she would not do it again and praised her for clearing up the mess and paying for redecoration.
He added it “spoke volumes” about her that her neighbours had forgiven her and Erimus Housing had not decided to evict her.
“They obviously recognise the feeling you have for that home and why it’s important for you to remain there,” he said.
“It also convinces me that they feel the same way as I do, that you’re not going to do this again.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 22 Oct 2014
Police chiefs have blamed savage welfare cuts for a sharp rise in shoplifting figures.
Ron Hogg, Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Durham, claims people are “stealing to live” after a 35 per cent rise in his force area in shoplifting cases.
Despite not having direct evidence to back up his claim, Mr Hogg says people are turning to crime as they do not have enough money to feed themselves after the Government’s welfare reforms.
He said: “Shoplifting is up 35 per cent year on year and an awful lot of people are stealing to live.
“We predicted this would cause massive problems for some of the most vulnerable in our society.
“With more welfare reform yet to be implemented the situation will only get worse.”
Mr Hogg’s claims were echoed by Barry Coppinger, the PCC for Cleveland, after a 7.3 per cent hike in his force area.
He said: “Deep and relentless welfare reforms have a knock-on effect on other crimes, particularly shoplifting, as families turn to the black market to buy food and items they can’t afford.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said there was no evidence linking reforms to increased crime.
He said: “Ending the spare room subsidy was absolutely necessary in order to get the soaring housing benefit bill under control, returning fairness to the system and making better use of social housing stock.
“These rules already applied to the housing benefit claimants in the private sector – introduced by the previous Government.”
A recent DWP report found 522,905 households were affected by the so-called bedroom tax by last August and nearly a fifth of claimants had registered an interest in downsizing.
More than half of claimants had cut back on household essentials, a quarter had borrowed money and three per cent had taken pay day loans.
Mr Hogg and Mr Coppinger advised people who have found themselves struggling financially to use credit unions.
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 07 Aug 2014
Crime chiefs say the so-called bedroom tax is driving people to ruthless loansharks and committing crime.
Cleveland and Durham’s Police and Crime Commissioners expressed growing concerns over the financial pressures the benefit cut is having on households.
They say it is leading to a rise in crimes like shoplifting and people buying on the black market and worry the benefit cut will drive people to illegal and ruthless money lenders.
> And nobody ever speculated that this would be a likely consequence ? What will they do when they catch on to the effects of benefit sanctions !
It is after a recent interim Government report on the spare room subsidy.
It revealed that 59 per cent of social housing tenants hit by the bedroom tax nationally have been unable to meet their basic housing costs.
Crime commissioner for Cleveland Barry Coppinger said: “Bedroom tax leaves many in severe hardship and I’m concerned that some families will turn to volatile loan sharks as a short-term solution.
“The pressure increases when they can’t pay what they owe the unlicensed moneylender, particularly if a threat of violence is looming over them.”
He added: “Deep and relentless welfare reforms have a knock-on effect on other crimes, particularly shoplifting, as families turn to the black-market to buy food and other items they can’t afford in the shops.
“I would reiterate the importance of seeking trusted financial advice, accessing credit unions and asking to be referred to a foodbank. Foodbank locations in Cleveland are on the information section of my website.”
And Durham’s Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg said he feared the problem will get worse with further planned welfare reforms.
Mr Hogg said: “We predicted that this tax would cause massive problems for some of the most vulnerable in our society.
“With more welfare reform yet to be implemented the situation will only get worse.
“Many in our communities will struggle to put food on the table or pay their utility bills.
“As these financial pressures grow we would encourage the use of credit unions and urge those affected to seek trusted financial advice.”
The bedroom tax came into force on April 1 last year and affects social housing tenants in employment and those in receipt of housing benefits if they have any unoccupied rooms.
Households under occupancy have their benefits cut by around £13 each week for one bedroom or £22 for two bedrooms.
In Hartlepool, 1,581 households have been affected with the average weekly loss of housing benefit of £13.67 a week and the annual value of housing benefit reductions in Hartlepool is £1.123m.
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 31 July 2014
Two-thirds of households in England affected by the bedroom tax have fallen into rent arrears since the policy was introduced in April, while one in seven families have received eviction risk letters and face losing their homes, a survey claims.
The National Housing Federation (NHF) said its survey demonstrated that the bedroom tax was “heaping misery and hardship” on already struggling families who were unable to pay their rent but unable to find anywhere cheaper to live because of a shortage of smaller homes.
The NHF survey is one of three separate reports published on Wednesday which collectively criticise the design and implementation of the bedroom tax and highlight the negative impact it has had on the lives of many of the 522,000 people in the UK who are subject to it.
The disability charity Papworth Trust says that a third of disabled people affected by the tax have been refused emergency financial help, despite government guidance that disabled people who live in adapted homes get first call on discretionary housing payment funding.
The trust said many disabled people who have been refused emergency payments – which are intended to provide short-term financial relief to those struggling to cope with the bedroom tax – were now cutting back on essentials such as food or household bills. It called on ministers to exempt people living in adapted properties from the tax.
Meanwhile, the Labour party has published the results of a freedom of information request which shows the number of tenants wrongly subjected to the bedroom tax as a result of drafting errors in legislation is nearly 50,000 – at least 10 times as many as official estimates.
Chris Bryant, the shadow minister for welfare reform, said information from a third of councils showed that 16,000 people were affected by the error, which affects working age tenants in social housing who have occupied the same home continuously since 1996.
The reports herald a day of parliamentary activity around the bedroom tax. A bill to abolish the tax will be introduced by Labour backbench MP Ian Lavery, while Lord Freud, the welfare minister, will appear before a committee of MPs to answer question on a raft of welfare reforms.
Lavery said he believed that the bedroom tax had caused the most visible poverty and heartache of all the coalition’s welfare changes. “I have seen with my own eyes the absolutely astounding impact the bedroom tax has on disabled and sick people. I’m not sure the government is aware of the hardship and misery it has caused. We are talking about ordinary people who have been forced to move from the homes where they have spent a lifetime raising their kids. They have been cast out like dogs in the night.”
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said: “We are determined to support those who might need extra help through these necessary reforms. That is why we have tripled the extra funding given to councils this year to £190m – some of which is specifically targeted at disabled people – and have announced that £165m will be available for councils next year to help vulnerable tenants.”
It said the NHF could not prove whether the rise in tenant rent arrears was accounted for by the bedroom tax alone.
The bedroom tax – also known under its official names of “spare room subsidy” or “under-occupation penalty” – affects 660,000 housing benefit claimants living in social housing across the UK. Introduced last April, the policy imposes an average penalty of between £14 and £22 a week on working-age tenants deemed to have more bedrooms than they need.
NHF chief executive David Orr said: “From day one we have said the bedroom tax is unfair, unworkable and just bad policy. It’s putting severe pressure on thousands of the nation’s poorest people and must be repealed.”
This article was written by Patrick Butler, social policy editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 12th February 2014.
Source – Welfare News Service 12 Feb 2014
Newcastle City Council is considering “re-designating” whole tower blocks of two-bedroom flats as one-bedroom properties – because tenants can’t afford to pay the bedroom tax.
Two thirds of council housing tenants are currently behind on their rent, double the number before the bedroom tax was introduced.
The impact of the bedroom tax on families across the city was revealed by Coun Joyce McCarty, deputy leader of Newcastle City Council, when she spoke to MPs. Coun McCarty was giving evidence to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, which is holding an inquiry into how changes to the welfare system have affected housing.
New rules introduced by the Government mean housing benefit is cut for claimants in social housing who are considered to have a spare room. The policy has been dubbed a ‘bedroom tax’ by critics, while ministers say they are ending a ‘spare-room subsidy’.
Coun McCarty said 5,500 households in the city were hit by the policy. And others who weren’t currently affected were desperate to avoid it, even if that meant turning down the offer of a two-bedroom property.
She told MPs: “Because previously people wanted space, we actually pulled down one bedroom flats not that long ago. We are thinking of re-designating complete tower blocks of two bedroom flats as one bedroom flats, because people can’t afford them.”
This would allow tenants to avoid having their housing benefit cut, but it would also mean the council lost money, she said.
“The impact of doing that is huge because that’s a loss of rental income as well.”
“We’ve got lots [of properties] that people don’t want to move in to . . . couples and individuals don’t want to move in to there because they know they’d have to pay additional costs.”
Newcastle had been particularly affected by the change to housing benefit because 23% of residents live in social housing, compared to a national average of just10%, she said.
Your Homes Newcastle, who manage council homes on behalf of the council, visited tenants to make sure they were claiming everything they were entitled to.
“At the moment 66% of our tenants are in arrears, which is double what it would have been before April, so that can be allocated to be the bedroom tax,” Coun McCarty added. “There are about 139 currently pending facing eviction since the bedroom tax was introduced.”
But the council was working with all the tenants involved to try to keep them in their homes, she said. In theory, tenants could move into smaller properties. However, those properties were not available.
“We have 3,500 people wanting to have one bedroom properties now, but each year we probably have 800 free so it will take us several years to reallocate those people.”
Your Homes Newcastle said it was considering re-designating a further 1,200 properties, but could not specify which blocks. Neil Scott, director of tenancy services said: “Newcastle has an unusually large proportion of accommodation in high rise properties. We currently manage 44 blocks over six storeys. The vast majority of properties in these blocks are two bedroom. We have 2,594 two bedroom flats in high rise properties, and 80 of those are available for let.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 06 Jan 2014
Thousands of North East families are facing a bedroom tax bill of almost £20m.
According to new figures, by August – four months after the controversial spare room subsidy policy was introduced – nearly 30,000 of the region’s households had been hit by the new fees.
Each faces losing out on an average of £679.14 in housing benefits each year – though the picture is worse for people in County Durham, Newcastle and Sunderland, which are among the top 10 hardest-hit areas in the UK.
The National Housing Federation claims that 51% of households affected by the bedroom tax were unable to pay their rent between April and June. Their North East external affairs manager Monica Burns called for the policy to be repealed.
“These new Government figures show that the bedroom tax is affecting thousands of people in the North East – for many, there isn’t even anywhere for them to downsize to. There simply aren’t enough smaller social homes available, and the cost of private rented housing is rising.
“The North East is particularly hard-hit, with the highest proportion of people living in social housing affected by the bedroom tax in the country. The Government says discretionary housing payments will help those who cannot downsize, but there isn’t anywhere near enough money.
“The bedroom tax is trapping many people in homes they can no longer afford and where they are struggling. It is unfair, badly designed, and must be repealed.”
A spokesman for the Department for Work & Pensions ( DWP) said that it has given an extra £5,382,375 in funding to councils to make discretionary payments to help those struggling to pay.
Northumberland has received £416,365, Newcastle £685,271, Durham £883,089, Gateshead £373,518, North Tyneside £331,993, South Tyneside £305,483 and Sunderland £658,202.
Hang on – so the government imposes this tax on the poorest sector of society, presumably to raise money. Then, via the DWP, gives over 5 million of it back in order to fund people who cant pay it. Who then give it straight back to the government. Eh ?
I make no claims to being a financial expert (which, on recent evidence of the Co-Op Bank, should put me in the frame for a top job in banking), but I cant help thinking “why not just scrap the tax ?”
It doesn’t seem to raise much cash, is focused on the worst off, and is hardly a vote winner. Perhaps the government should put its mind to all those non-tax-paying corporations and super-rich tax dodgers instead ? But I guess bullies always go for easy targets.
Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell (Lab) –
“The bedroom tax is raised by constituents time and time again, who are being penalised for a situation not of their own making and who simply can’t afford to pay.
“These new figures illustrate the appalling impact this pernicious policy is having on many thousands of families across the region – with the extra £680 per year an almost impossible ask for people on low incomes already struggling with a cost of living crisis.
“The policy makes no sense. There are nowhere near sufficient smaller properties for people to move to, and it therefore does nothing to address overcrowding.
“Or – for the thousands of disabled people affected – they clearly need an additional bedroom as it can often be totally impractical for a couple to share in these circumstances.”
Oh, if only I believed Labour would rectify the situation if they win the next election… sadly I no longer have any faith in that direction.