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Volume 563: debated on Monday 13 May 2013


Monday 13 May 2013

Work and Pensions

Changes to Welfare in Hartlepool

The Petition of residents of Hartlepool,

Declares that the Petitioners support the Manor Residents Association in their protest against Government legislation in the Welfare Reform Act 2012 which will result in a further stealth tax on residents and families who are already reeling from the effect of Government austerity measures; further that the Petitioners believe that the “bedroom tax”, introduced as part of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, will have a major impact on the health and well being of those who are most vulnerable and least well off in our communities; further that this legislation ignores the needs of social housing tenants by introducing a tax designed to reduce Central Government expenditure; further that the Petitioners believe that the assertion that the legislation will encourage greater mobility within the rented sector and make better use of available housing stock flies in the face of common sense as there are already significant waiting lists for social housing in our towns and cities and that the notion that this legislation will enable families to come off benefits by downsizing is nonsensical when the reality is that families will be no better off than they are currently; further that, for many individuals on benefits, this will result in significant hardship, that stark choices such as feeding a family or keeping a roof over their heads will need to be made and that there will be an increase of homelessness amongst the most vulnerable in society.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to remove the “bedroom tax” on families.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr Iain Wright, Official Report, 25 March 2013; Vol. 560, c. 1438.]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions:

The Government believe that those on Housing Benefit in the social rented sector should face the same choices about where to live as those living in the private rented sector. That is why we have taken steps to remove the spare room subsidy in the social rented sector with effect from 1 April 2013, by restricting the amount of Housing Benefit paid to working age social sector tenants who live in a property that is too large for their needs. This is not a tax on individuals, but a reduction in the level of state support for housing costs for those who under occupy.

The Housing Benefit bill must be brought under control. It has increased by around 50% in real terms over the last decade and in 2011-12 expenditure stood at £23 billion. The Government cannot expect taxpayers to continue to underwrite people’s housing costs regardless of the size of their accommodation. People receiving Housing Benefit who wish to remain in accommodation that is larger than their household requires need to fund part of the cost themselves.

The Government believe that it is neither affordable nor fair that there are approaching 1 million extra rooms being paid for by Housing Benefit at a time when almost quarter of a million people are living in overcrowded accommodation and there are almost 2 million on social housing waiting lists in England alone. Over time the removal of the spare room subsidy will encourage more effective use of social housing stock and a more strategic approach in both the allocation of property and, in the longer term, building programmes, ensuring more appropriately sized accommodation for demand. It is in the interests of both social landlords and tenants to ensure a better match between housing need and the size of accommodation provided.

This measure is not about forcing people to move. We expect many households will choose to remain where they are and will find a way of making up the shortfall, in the same way that those living in properties that are too large in the private rented sector do. We do not yet know what decisions claimants affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy will make. Some may decide to move into work, some may move to smaller accommodation and others may make up any shortfall from their existing income or savings.

The Government have already trebled funding for Discretionary Housing Payments and from 2013-14 has added a further £25 million specifically aimed at disabled people living in significantly adapted accommodation. We believe this approach offers a more flexible and cost effective approach and will enable local authorities to provide additional support such as allowing extra time for those affected to find suitable alternative accommodation as well as providing longer term support for vulnerable claimants, such as those living in significantly adapted accommodation.

The Government recognise that those who downsize will not always come off benefits. However we believe that for some people the lower rent they have to pay when they downsize may act as a work incentive and so improve their financial situation.

We have worked with the Chartered Institute of Housing who have produced an online guide for social sector landlords “Making it Fit—a guide to preparing for the social sector size criteria” which we believe will help landlords in supporting tenants who are affected by this measure and to develop a strategic and operational approach tailored to their area. This includes a section on supporting tenants to pay their rent. It is clearly in the interests of landlords to do all they can to support those tenants who are finding it difficult to adjust financially and to ensure they are fully aware of all the financial options available to them. We believe that proactive work by landlords, together with the support which the Government have provided via Discretionary Housing Payments, will ensure that most tenants affected, and particularly the most vulnerable, will not be at risk of homelessness.

The Government have no plans to change the removal of the spare room subsidy.