The Bedroom Tax

Its fortunate that Nottingham City Council is so wholeheartedly opposed to the new under-occupancy penalty, A.K.A. the ‘Bedroom Tax’, which was introduced by Cameron’s Tory government in April last year. The Bedroom Tax is a reduction in the amount of housing benefit received by social housing tenants who have a ‘spare’ room. This effectively means that social housing housing tenants who are deemed to have a ‘spare’ room are having to stump up extra cash for their rent payments. It is affecting around 5,500 people in Nottingham.

Apart from the many legitimate reasons for having a ‘spare’ room, which are ignored by this legislation, such as living with a disability that requires room to store essential equipment, being a separated parent and needing a place for children to stay at weekends, or just because there are no one or two-bedroom properties available. This ‘tax’ is one that is targeting some of the most vulnerable people in the country, i.e. those surviving on minimal state benefits or low incomes. But most ludicrous of all is that the people on low incomes or state benefits are expected to suddenly juggle all their finances to be able to cough up 14%-25% of their rent.

This comes at the same time as Council Tax Benefit being cut, resulting in an increase in the amount required to pay towards Council Tax. All in all its not looking great for people who who are already struggling to make ends meet, as I’m sure many of you will be aware…

What’s unfortunate is that the predominantly Labour Nottingham City Council do not seem to have any spine when it comes to actually making a stand against the things they claim to oppose. Did they refuse to implement this unfair legislation? Did they promise to prevent any evictions of people from their homes? Did they increase their budget for Discretionary Housing Payments? In short, no. There is a petition.

Other than a lot of hot air, the only action I can see being taken is a working protocol being created by the big social landlords (Asra, City Homes and NCHA) and the Council which will offer tenants ‘every option to prevent eviction.’ This essentially says that an eviction shouldn’t happen if tenants are engaging with either debt advice agencies, or with landlords’ tenancy sustainment teams that manage arrears. Every tenant who goes into this scheme will also receive a Discretionary Housing Payment (a pot of money allocated as an emergency hardship grant) which will have to payed back over time.

Since Thatcher’s reign and the Right to Buy scheme much of the council housing stock has been sold on to tenants during the last 25 years. Regardless of your opinions on this the reality is that most local authorities in the UK now only have a relatively small stock of social housing. In our fair city its mostly managed by Nottingham City Homes with some owned and managed by housing associations. As this pattern has continued it has become common to prioritise social housing for the most vulnerable individuals in society, for example, people with disabilities, people with health problems, single parents, the elderly, etc.

Social housing should always be fought for and preserved while it still exists but when social housing is understood as being primarily for the most vulnerable people in society I find it very difficult to see any justification for an aggressive economic policy demanding additional rent contributions from social housing tenants. The Bedroom Tax represents the latest in a long string of methods by which the nation’s many economic shortfalls are being passed onto local communities while also being targeted at some of the poorest and most vulnerable people. All the while big business and the rich are allowed to accumulate more and more wealth thanks to the gift from the government, of economic freedoms, concessions and tax breaks, to the wealthiest individuals and their businesses.

In short it seems that Nottingham City Council are making some small efforts towards supporting individuals and families who are being affected by this unfair tax, but they are playing it very safe. And in the mean time they are implementing their own measures to grease the way for this money to be taken from the 5,500 social housing tenants being affected in Nottingham. Nottingham City Council should be putting their money where their mouth is and taking a much firmer stand against the Tory Bedroom Tax.

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