Friday, 17 August 2012

The Bedroom Tax or Under Occupancy

In early July 2012 tenants of “social” housing in Leeds  received a letter or possibly a personal visit from their landlords informing them that records showed that the tenants were “under occupying” their properties.

. If you receive Housing Benefit, are of working age (under 62) and live in social housing then your tenancy could be at risk from next April if it is deemed that you are under occupying.

This is a national problem caused by the ConDem coalition Government that has introduced the Welfare Reform Act. This new Act is just the latest scheme whereby the government wants to save money by cutting the Housing Benefit budget, one of the largest benefits that is paid out to 5,012,000 claimants (in April 2012). This figure shows that HB is clearly claimed by those who are in work as well as those who are unfortunately unemployed. A recent report shows that 93% of new HB claims were made by households containing at least one employed adult. Proof positive that the allegations of scroungers is nonsense.

From April 2013 it was expected that the “Universal Credit” scheme would start to apply in West Yorkshire. Due to computer problems this is now likely to be October 2013. Universal credit will be a lump sum replacing HB, Income related employment and support allowance, Income based JSA, Income Support, Child Tax Credit and Working tax Credit UC will be capped at £500 a week for lone parents and couples and £350 for single claimants. It will be administered by Jobcentre Plus  / HMRC and be paid Monthly in arrears.
 The HB element of UC will in any event apply from April 2013 and if it is considered that if you are a tenant with “too many” bedrooms then your housing benefit will be cut. If you have one extra bedroom you lose 14 % of HB, if you have 2 extra bedrooms you lose 25% of HB.

In the Leeds city area these rule changes are going to affect 7373 “council” tenants. 5499 tenants are under occupying by one bedroom and 1527 by 2 bedrooms. 4946 require 1 bedroom accommodation according to the Council. Guess what? That one bedroom accommodation does not exist!!

What is under occupancy?

The DWP has decided people are entitled to one bedroom for each couple, one for each adult over 16, one for 2 children under 16 of the same gender and one for 2 children under 10 even if different genders.

If Mr and Mrs have a 3-bedroom house, a boy, and a girl age 6and 8 they will lose 10% of housing benefit until the boy becomes 10 and is entitled to a separate room. In the interim the parents either make up the difference from other income or “downsize” to a 2-bedroom property.

Single people occupying a 2-bed property are at risk of being forced into private rented accommodation where there is no security of tenure and repairs are seldom carried out. This is because whilst you can apply to a social housing provider for a one bed property you will probably find that there aren’t any.

 Recent changes to the law also state that a single person who is under 35 years of age is not entitled to HB for anything other then a room in a house of multiple occupancy – no house, no flat just a room.

Families are not static units. People come together, have children watch their children grow and start work (if they can find a job), leave home and produce grandchildren. Some relationships breakdown and parents separate but still want to maintain contact with their children. How can they do that if there is no room available for them to use when they stop over.

Just imagine if young Johnny can’t find work so joins the army. His parents bid him farewell to go off to Afghanistan and then are told they are “over occupiers” as they have a spare bedroom and their HB will be cut. The examples are almost endless. You can no doubt think of plenty yourselves.

Employment chances also fluctuate. People may read this and believe it doesn’t apply to them because they are in work. In the middle of a recession people may lose their job or be put on short time working. At that point a claim for Housing Benefit is made and the number of bedrooms becomes very significant.

Communities will forever be changing as a family size alters. Gone will be the days of a stable community where people look out for each other. Only the rich will be able to afford a community with such as the inhabitants of Chipping Norton sharing “country suppers”

Tenants may be tempted to try and make up the shortfall in the rent from their general income. In the long term that is not a realistic possibility and there is the risk of resorting to loan sharks at exorbitant rates of interest to try and avoid possession proceedings due to rent arrears.

Leeds City Council offered some interesting suggestions to tenants in this worrying situation.
Try and find work or increase you hours! Obtain help in opening a bank account! Take in a lodger
Move on Leeds Homes Register. Consider a move to a private rented property (and a 6 month assured short hold tenancy instead of a secure Council home).

It may be that councils up and down the country will tell the DWP

If there is no alternative accommodation it is doubtful that any Judge would grant an eviction order in such circumstances – and remember, unlike the private sector social landlord will not be evicting without a court order. It is therefore essential that if eviction is ever threatened tenants contest those proceedings and if Legal Aid is not available they must attend court hearings and make a Judge aware of the situation.

We in Hands Off Our Homes ( a Leeds based group) can not tell tenants what to do but by bringing people together we can help create a feeling of togetherness and community. To that end we hope to hold meetings in a number of localities so tenants can get together and work out a position which is perhaps different to those suggested by the Council.

Hands Off Our Homes is linked to the national organisation Defend Council Housing to which Unite is affiliated and provides office space. Contact them

What can be done?

This topic should be raised in all Labour Party forums and Trades Councils.
It is Labour led Councils that have to decide whether they are going to evict tenants who fall into arrears of rent. Write to or contact your Councillors, your M.P.s.

Should any Unite Branch in West Yorkshire want a speaker please contact on details below.

We are always happy to receive donations, cheques payable to “Hands Off Our Homes” sent to John Davies. 50, Henconner lane, Leeds LS7 3NX
Contact or 0113 2629046

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