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Under-occupancy Penalty

Volume 569: debated on Monday 21 October 2013

14. What assessment he has made of the availability of smaller properties for people affected by the under-occupancy penalty. (900562)

18. What assessment he has made of the availability of smaller properties for people affected by the under-occupancy penalty. (900567)

The Department and the Homes and Communities Agency publish information annually on the number of social rented properties by size, and during the year the number of properties available for letting will vary.

I welcome the Minister to his new position, but I must say that that answer was rather vague. It has been reported that there are enough one and two-bedroom social housing properties for only 4% of those affected by the bedroom tax. Does the Minister expect the other 96% of those affected to go into private lets? If so, will that not send housing benefit payments shooting upwards, rather than cutting them?

Clearly, the implementation of this policy will take a while, and each tenant must weigh up their own circumstances and consider how they adapt. As I said previously, I expect local authorities to work with all housing providers in an area, including the private sector—in my constituency more people rent in the private sector than in the public sector—and consider the best use of stock and what assistance is most appropriate for the individual.

In Hackney, 3,581 households are affected by the bedroom tax, and since April only 70 have been helped into smaller accommodation. The scale of the problem is such that to meet demand we need just under 2,000 one-bedroom properties, and just over 1,200 two- bedroom properties. The Minister may say that we should look at other solutions, but what solutions does he suggest for a borough such as Hackney?

I do not have information for the hon. Lady’s constituency, but across London 78% of people on housing benefit are unaffected by these changes, and many of the balance will be affected only by one bedroom. As I said, I expect local authorities, including Hackney, to look across all housing providers in the area and consider best use of the stock. The hon. Lady’s constituency and mine are not utterly dissimilar, and there may be people living in overcrowded accommodation in the private sector who could move into houses that are freed up in the social sector. Then everyone would be better off.

Will the Minister confirm that the Government will save money with their bedroom tax only if families who are hit are unable to move? Will he be clear: will the bedroom tax be a success if people move, or if they cannot?

Each circumstance is different. As I said to the hon. Lady’s London colleague, the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier)—I am sure this is also true in West Ham—there may be people living in overcrowded conditions in the private sector who desperately want bigger accommodation that is available only in the public sector. That is the housing casework that has come to me over the past eight and a half years of representing an inner-city constituency. We are spending huge amounts supporting people in overcrowded conditions, and across the private and public sectors we are not making best use of the housing stock available.