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Webb vs Byrne on the ‘bedroom tax’

28 January 2013

One of the most frustrating things about being a policymaker must surely be when something that sounds so very sensible and straightforward in your ivory tower ends up being a bit messy in practice. Take the ‘bedroom tax’: it’s not actually a tax, but Labour enjoy calling anything they don’t like a ‘tax’ (odd, given their own penchant for taxation). This is a housing benefit cut for social tenants living in homes with more bedrooms than they need. It was announced in the 2010 emergency budget and comes into effect from April. Very sensible, you might think, especially when private tenants don’t get extra housing benefit for spare rooms. The policy is in theory a no-brainer.

The only spanner in the works is that by the department’s own estimates, there aren’t enough smaller homes for these 660,000 social tenants to downsize into once their housing benefit is cut to cover only the rooms they need. This is what the department’s impact assessment said:

‘According to estimates from DCLG there is a surplus of three bedroom properties, based on the profile of existing working age tenants in receipt of Housing Benefit, and a lack of one bedroom accommodation in the social sector. In many areas this mismatch could mean that there are insufficient properties to enable tenants to move to accommodation of an appropriate size even if tenants wished to move and landlords were able to facilitate this movement.’

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This leaves them in a bit of a pickle. It’s something Liam Byrne decided to pick up as his question for Steve Webb today at Work and Pensions Questions in the Commons, although he damaged a perfectly good question by warbling on about real taxes, saying ‘people in social housing will face a £14 a week extra bill when those on a million a year face a £2,000 a week tax cut’. Webb’s response was rather wittier than his normal offering (he also managed to tell a Labour MP during the same session that a claim she had made was ‘simply not necessarily the case!’). He told Byrne:

‘Quite why today’s millionaires would rather have our 45p rate than his 40p, or our 28% capital gains tax rather than his 18% is beyond me.’

Webb said households would respond to a range of ways to the cut by taking on a lodger or working a few more hours to cover the shortfall, with discretionary payments for those most in need. The things on this list might well be the magical solution, but the advent of the bedroom tax is starting to attract the attention of Tory MPs as problems appear in their postbag, too.

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Show comments
  • emma wycherley

    A LOT of judgemental people on here..I worked right up until the day I had my son,unfortunately he was born very premature and as a result was severly brain damaged and now severley disabled..was this his or my fault,I think not!

    I am now his carer 24/7..I have always private rented until it became impossible for my son and myself to function without adaptations,they won’t put adaptations into private rented houses…so HAD to move where the council put me 2 years I have 1 extra bedroom but guess what there are NO 3 bedroom suitable available and I can’t go back to private rented…so for my family I have to pay,no choice and if you expect me to put my sons welfare in jeopardy by taking in a lodger you can think again!
    I truely hope not one of you falls on hard times or something happens beyond your control because I wouldn’t wish this judged life on anyone!

  • old_labour

    If people took in a lodger, they could be in breach of their tenancy agreement which is grounds for eviction.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    The BBC are leaving no stone unteurned in their opposition to this.

    Our local BBC TV news reports on a family who have lost a young daughter and left her bedroom as a ‘shrine’ to her memory. They subsist partly on benefits and claim that the shrine will not exist forever but those heartless Tory cuts etc etc etc……

    • DWWolds

      So what is new? The BC follow that pattern all the time.

    • realfish

      ‘…Take the ‘bedroom tax’: it’s not actually a tax, but Labour enjoy calling anything they don’t like a ‘tax’…’
      The BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire had this mother on her show yesterday as part of a segment on the new ‘Under Occupancy’ rules.
      It’s not only Labour that enjoy misleading and mobilising opposition to something by renaming things, throughout the segment Derbyshire repeatedly used the term ‘Bedroom Tax’, not once addressing the measure by (or informing the listener of) it’s true name.
      Time to get in on the act and rename her programme the VD show.

  • Radford_NG

    I must again raise my grievance that all around me *very* large amounts of property is student accommodation…….new build or converted.Much of it built by housing associations;though not subsidised still they get `pumped-primed`by state capital.

  • Radford_NG

    Anomalies under present system;but new system brings in greater number,and more unfair to the innocent:parents who have brought-up their family in a house for 20-odd yrs. and are part of the community;60+yr.olds whose live-in parent[in-law] has died.A social house [or private rented] is more then a house:it’s a home.

  • Radford_NG

    New regulations say:under 10yrs.children to share room regardless of sex;10+to share room as per male or female.

  • Radford_NG

    Social housing is NOT SUBSIDISED .Council housing agencies and housing assoc.have had to break-even since Mrs.T’s. time.Those on low income receive housing benefit in private or social housing.

  • Colonel Mustard

    The media should perhaps ask themselves why the less than accurate terms that Labour coin in order to attack the Tories stick and the terms the Tories try to level at Labour never seem to. The narrative is always Labour’s, aided and abetted by the media who seem to delight in a sort of schadenfreude whenever the Tories are deemed to foul up but quickly forget Labour’s many, many real crimes against the English people.

    • Gareth

      No, we do not delight when the Tories foul up; we despair at the incompetence of this government and its continued inability to think through its policies.

  • Noa

    If there are insufficient houses for people to downsize into, then presumably a reduction in benefit will have the effect of reducing the amount of money available for rents.

    Landlords will then either have to reduce rents, or sell rental properties, creating opportunities for new buyers.
    The macro-economics may be sound, but the social consequence of moving out of their homes may well be devastating for the individuals and families affected.
    Conservative MPs will not want to be members of a party that has effectively thrown people out on the street.

    And who bears the removal costs in such cases, the state? Must these be offset against the purported £940m savings?

    • Daniel Maris

      Or immigrants to the country will find they don’t have to fund the creation of new housing and can move into the units that become avalable while the ex welfare recipients are priced out.

      • Oldham Fibromyalgia Sufferers

        i’d like to know if a 1 bedroomed is 100 and a 3 bedroomed is the same you would still get the same benefit so how does this help? look up the rents on oldham properties

    • Radford_NG

      You appear to be saying:rented housing[social or private] isn’t just a house;it’s a home.

      • Noa

        Are you saying that the difference between a house and a home is that the former is rented, but the latter is a home because it is mortgaged or owned outright?
        If so, you are de-humanising people because they rent rather than buy.

        • Radford_NG

          I was meaning social housing is a home not just housing to be allocated.

          • Noa

            Then we appear to be in violent agreement!

    • DWWolds

      Don’t you think that people who lose their jobs and have to relocate to find a new one have to move out of their homes?

    • Hobbes404

      Rents don’t come down, even when housing benefit is slashed, because demand in the south is high enough that immigrants are willing to over-occupy social housing stock and private stock, keeping the prices inflated. All that’s happening is that the lucky ones end up renting *a room* in a private house, and the unlucky ones end up in block booked B&B’s.

      • Noa

        And the net result is simply a greater increase in benefits elsewhere.

        Whereas an across the board cut in housing benefit might have obtained a reduction in rental costs…

  • Troika21

    Frankly, I can see this back-firing. Lots of pictures of full-time care-givers who’ve been forced out of their care-recipients spare-room and left without support.

    This rings a bell, too:

    a surplus of three bedroom properties

    When my parents sold some old farm buildings, the developers crammed bedrooms into the tiny structures, ending up with, yes, three bedrooms each with barely the space to breath.

  • Hobby Thehobster

    You can’t work a few more hours to cover the shortfall. The taper rate in Housing Benefit and what is currently Council Tax Benefit means those benefits reduce by 85p in the net pound. £14 bedroom tax requires an additional £93.33 a week net income increase to compensate for the HB and CTB lost. The minister should know that but clearly doesn’t. Very sad indeed.

  • HooksLaw

    Since when was life ‘straightforward’? The scandal was and would be a bigger one if the benefit was being paid when it was not needed. The point about lodgers seems well made to me and ought to save on benefits claimed by a person who needs 1 room who live in 2 roomed accommodation!

  • Russell

    What a shame that those people in Social (taxpayer subsidised) Housing will have to work a few more hours or take in a lodger if they want to continue living in a house which has more bedrooms they they either need or can afford.
    What a pity people living in non Social housing (non taxpayer subsidised) have to work more hours or take in a lodger to remain in the house they are paying a mortgage for in the same circumstances!!!!!
    This really highlights the ridiculous and unaffordable housing benefits system Labour introduced and expanded even to people earning £60,000 per year.

    • HooksLaw

      I imagine its tough living off benefits, but thats not the point. Benefits are there to assist, not to take a liberty.
      Labour by their actions see benefits as an alternative to work not as a poor relation.
      Heaven forbid they get back in power, eh?

      • Popstar2012

        Housing benefit actually feeds the greed of the private sector, by enabling them to pay wages too low to live on, which taxpayer than has to top up….
        If private sector paid enough for people to live on, as in put food on the table, shoes on the feet and roof over their heads, the need for benefits would reduce.

        Most people most of the time want to work, but are prevented from doing so by a pernicious and destructive market ideology that is sucking economic opportunity out of the country. Because no-one can do a job that isn’t there to be done.

        • Rog and George

          Paying people more is not the answer- prices will only rise to meet the excess cost of wage bills whilst maintaining current profit levels for the businesses who are the employers. The government should be looking at ways in which we can bring prices down to an affordable level. We need to be taxing buy to let landlords who are the modern day slumlords at prohibitive rates, whilst incentivising social enterprise and housing association providers who are providing housing at an unsubsidised rate without driving up rents beyond ability to pay.

          • Popstar2012

            Clearly it is time to let go of ‘free market’ fantasies…..

            • andagain

              Try building a home on your own property and you will see how free the market is.

              Try making it easier to do that, and you will see how much the Conservatives care about free markets and property rights.

          • andagain

            Supply and demand says that prices will always be high in southern England as long as people want to move there and the government wants to stop anyone from building houses there.

            Let people build houses and rents would fall and people could move south for work, boosting that economy that everyone says they care so much about.

            Obviously the Conservatives will never let that happen, for all their talk of economic liberty. So rents will always be high, and the economy anemic.

    • Angela Sullivan

      People who are getting charged for having “spare” bedrooms include:-

      1. Families of servicemen and women. While servicemen risk their lives in Afghanistan, their families can be slammed witth a bedroom tax. The same applies to other adult children who have good reasons for being away – studying, working, doing a gap year – but still see the parental house as home. Would you turf out your just-grown child and move to a smaller house? I wouldn’t.

      2. Single parents without custody. Usually, but not always, Dads. The best of them want to see their children and provide somewhere decent for them to stay over at the weekend. The government thinks a dodgy camp bed in the living room is all that’s needed, and a bedroom is “spare”.

      3. Families where a member has died. I’m not sure how long it takes for the bedroom tax to activate after a bereavement, but I expect for many grieving families, it will be too soon.

      4. Families where someone is ill, disabled or has special needs. They may need an extra bedroom to accommodate a carer, or they may genuinely have a spare bedroom but not wish to leave a house which has been extensively and expensively adapted. Such families should get Local Authority discretionary help, but Local Authorities are going to be very short of cash, and may not be able to give to all deserving cases.
      5. People who care for other peoples children. That’s Grannies and Aunties as well as Foster carers and registered childminders. Again Foster Carers may be get to discretioonary local Authority help, or they may not.
      The best way to get rich on housing benefit isn’t to become a claimant, it’s to become a landlord..

      • Rog and George

        1. Families of servicemen and women. While servicemen risk their lives in Afghanistan, their families can be slammed with a bedroom tax.

        We’re a forces family- my husband is posted for 2 yrs away from home, yet I don’t count as a single adult occupier for a council tax discount because according to the council “it’s still his permanent address”. Despite the fact that he won’t set foot here or use council services for the next 2 years. I’m already paying a “bedroom tax”, and all my own housing costs, whilst subsidising people who aren’t paying a tax- they’re just getting slightly less of mine.
        There are plenty of people in the situation above who pay for their own housing who are in exactly the situations you describe above, and you know what? They have to suck it up. Pay extra rent for a spare room. Move somewhere else. Social housing seems to be for a few people who know the system. We were homeless after my husband’s last posting because the army changed his contract so were moved from an overseas posting on 2 weeks notice with nowhere to go. I slept on someone’s floor for 3 months before we got our housing sorted. We didn’t have anywhere to live and you know whose problem it was? Ours.

      • Kate Francis

        If the servicemen/students are registered as still living at home rather than at barracks – hence parent(s) have declared total household income when claiming benefits – then I fail to see how the bedroom tax can apply…..There are, however, many people who have said children over 18 have left home (when they haven’t) in order to get reduced council tax/increased benefits…these people may now get caught out.

    • Oldham Fibromyalgia Sufferers

      Russell when you have your own house you can sell….as we we’re forced to do ….in social housing you don’t own it ….huge difference …..why do you think they don’t pay your mortgage…….why should some claim upto 500 a week for housing benefit when for other this would pay upto five full rent?!!!!…..let everyone cut cost lets not pay for second houses for those who earn enough to pay for it ect…..once i was a high earner in a nice sized house…..your world can change through no fault of your own remember this!!!!!!…i cann’t see why people think that social housing is subsidized most of these house have been more than paid for most people living in them pay for there own repairs so they are better looked after….councils bad management and lack spending or building has caused the problem in other words greed by those who think they know better…..i pay £400 plus rent…..i paid less when i had a morgage……..but i owned it!!

      • Oldham Fibromyalgia Sufferers

        there are many councils that do not have 1/2 bedroomed properties to carry out this bedroom tax move… how are they going to manage to move or make people pay when they don’t have properties to move them to …..nobody has asked this yet…..oldham council say they don’t have the properties and it would leave larger properties empty which will loose the more rents… which will cost the taxpayer by default……….

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