Effect Of ‘Bedroom Tax’ On London

Changes to occupancy rules in social housing – known as the bedroom tax – came in yesterday. What’s the impact on London?

The government has altered Housing Benefit payments so that anyone of working age deemed to be ‘under occupying’ social housing will have their benefits docked. It’s already attracted fierce criticism because it penalises people who share care of children, adults who are disabled and expects children to share a room even if there are wide age gaps, leading to concerns about the effect on older children’s education. The National Housing Federation estimates that up to 80,000 low income households in London will be affected, losing an average of £771 a year.

The idea is that households will downsize to help reduce overcrowded families elsewhere, but the main problem is a lack of available smaller properties. Excellent blog Transpontine points us at a study done last year by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research, looking at Lee and the wider Lewisham borough. It found a four year waiting list for households wanting to move from a two bedroom to a one bedroom flat, and over 6,500 people borough-wide on the waiting list for a one bedroom flat. Also, there were no one bed privately rented properties in Lee that were affordable to people on low incomes. It’s not just Lewisham; at the time of the study, over 16,000 households across London were on the social housing waiting list, 42% of whom wanted just one bedroom.

This is another way that Londoners are caught up in our city’s insane housing situation. With a lack of decent, affordable housing for most of us, let alone those on minimum wage incomes or without work altogether, social housing tenants don’t have the flexibility to play the sort of musical houses the policy demands. So, they’re either going to end up cutting back on other bills (food, basically; we’ve already noted the rise in food banks) or be pushed into the more expensive private rented sector, increasing both Local Housing Allowance bills and competition for low-priced small flats – which are already like gold dust.

Alternatively, they’ll become homeless and back at the responsibility of the council. We’re told that a number of London councils have taken the decision that people who become homeless as a result of benefit reform won’t have made themselves intentionally homeless. Intentional/unintentional homelesses affects the amount of help claimants are entitled to, which makes this an interesting, and also rather politically explosive, decision.

Photo by naneh from the Londonist Flickr pool

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  • Guest

    Are those affected allowed to rent out the “excess” bedroom?

    • http://londonist.com/ Rachel Holdsworth

      Yes – in fact, there’s a council in London (I forget which, possibly Camden) trying to link up affected social housing tenants with lodgers, and Ealing Council has seriously suggested tenants apply to be foster carers http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21974707

  • Paul Ashby

    This is an ill conceived tax which is not about fairness but is a continuation of the hostility shown towards those least able to make choices for themselves. Considerations of cost to move, availability of appropriate flats locally or numerous individual circumstances such as long term illness or inappropriateness of a late teen sharing with a 3 year old have been ignored. The only ones who stand to benefit from this is private landlords who will take advantage of any shortage of council accommodation by jacking up their prices, which means a hike in the housing benefit paid to them. Utterly cruelty.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.kerin Stephen Kerin

      Oh what poppycock. Empty subsidised bedrooms must not allowed. If you started at the beginning you wouldn’t give out free bedrooms so why not right the wrong? This needs to be judged on intellectual expression not the hysteria of do-gooders.

      • BethPH

        No-one is giving out free bedrooms and they never have done. There is no wrong to be righted. It’s a pointless, pernicious cut which affects those least able to afford it. It’s also short-sighted because it ultimately costs the taxpayer more.

      • http://londonist.com/ Rachel Holdsworth

        Beth’s right. The Cambridge Centre report makes the point that councils and housing associations don’t give out homes that are bigger than needed. What happens is that, over time, circumstances change: chlidren grow up and leave home, families separate, people die, or families that were previously in full occupancy have found themselves suddenly deemed to be under occupying, for example, a family with an 8 year old boy and 6 year old girl in separate bedrooms are now under occupying until the eldest turns 10. And even if you accept that these people should all downsize, the question still remains – where to?

        • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.kerin Stephen Kerin

          I’m sure that is true. They can move in this instance just as if they were overcrowded.

  • jim1999

    blame 40 years of bad planning, the reluctance to allow infill housing developments and and automatic NIMBY reaction to innovative redevelopment. Let alone the giant mistakes of the 60′s and 70′s. If there is anybody to blame it’s the arrogance of the modernists and the conceit of a 60′s town planner.

    • http://twitter.com/andybrice Andy Brice

      I’m not sure you can particularly blame the Modernists. Although they may have been a bit arrogant, their philosophy was bastardised and done on-the-cheap.

      Many of the tower blocks we built here were cramped, crowded together and naffly-built in a hurry; that was never part of the movement’s manifesto.

  • http://twitter.com/andybrice Andy Brice

    There are many flaws with this plan (regarding shared rooms, disability, lack of supply). Which we should lobby the government to address quickly.

    But at its core, it seems fair to me that if a person was given a subsidised house when they needed it to raise a family, then once they no longer need it, they should give it up for someone who does. (And this would still apply, even if we had built enough social housing.)