In April of this year the Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2012 were implemented. They are officially referred to as the new rules which apply to under occupancy of council and social housing. They have more commonly become known as the bedroom tax. This is the latest in a series of reforms to housing benefit. There has been much public debate over whether the bedroom tax imposes pressure on an overstretched private rental sector or makes more, larger social housing units available to families stuck in properties which are too small for them
The bedroom tax is not strictly speaking a tax – it is a reduction in housing benefit. It has affected council tenants and people living in social housing of working age receiving housing benefit who are deemed to have more bedrooms than they need. Housing benefit paid to tenants in the private sector had already been calculated according to the number of bedrooms they needed under existing rules so the bedroom tax could be said to bring public and private rented housing into line.
One bedroom is allowed for:
– every adult couple (married or unmarried)
– every adult aged 16 or over
– any two children of the same sex aged under 16
– any two children aged under 10
– any other child (other than a child whose main home is elsewhere)
– a carer (or team of carers) who provide a tenant or tenant’s partner with overnight care
Approved foster carers are allowed one extra bedroom. An adult son, daughter or step-child who is in the Armed Forces serving away from home, is treated as continuing to live at home.
Citizens Advice Waverley has been able to help a number of clients affected by the bedroom tax in certain circumstances mainly by advising them when they might be entitled to Discretionary Housing Payments from the local authority. Many have been unable to move to smaller council properties because there are none available within their area, in which case they are expected to rent in the private sector. However the private rental sector is over subscribed locally and many private landlords will not accept tenants on housing benefit
There are incentives available to tenants who will consider moving. Waverley Borough Council provides Cash Transfer Grants of up to £1,200 to tenants who move to smaller council properties. However the root cause of the problem is the shortage of housing
According to the 2011 census, of the 49,280 households in Waverley 1,211 (2.45%) were over occupied – i.e., had too few bedrooms for the number of occupants. It is believed that Waverley Borough Council has written to around 700 of its tenants advising them they were under occupying their property .It is reasonable to assume that a significant number of these will remain where they are. .
Another statistic. On 1 April 2012, there were 1,402 empty properties in the Borough, representing 2.74% of all Council tax properties. Waverley Borough Council is keen to bring these back into use for obvious reasons
- the general environment of an area is improved
- using existing empty homes to house people helps meet the housing needs of the area
- vandalism and anti-social behaviour are less likely
Perhaps some of the media and public attention focused on the bedroom tax should be redirected to the issue of empty homes