Wednesday, 6 March 2013

City Council opposes 'pernicious' Bedroom Tax

People who have nursed a partner or a child through a long, painful and expensive terminal illness have also lost their homes shortly after the funeral thanks to the 'bedroom tax' that has penalised benefit claimants for 'under-occupation' of property since 2012. Thousands deemed to be under-occupying have lost their homes already.

From April 2013 these housing benefit regulations will also be applied to council and social housing tenants. Labour MP Ivan Lewis said, "“In the North West 43% of people living in council or housing association homes who receive housing benefit will be hit. This means 110,000 will be worse off by £728 a year when the Bedroom Tax comes into force."

The bedroom tax rules affect housing benefit, which is paid to less well-off tenants to help with rent. Typically claimants receive between £50 and £100 a week. Big changes are already being implemented in the private sector and you can read about those in our previous reports here (March 2011) and here (December 2012).

Council and Social Housing 

Council and Social Housing is allocated by a points system based predominantly on need. From April 2013 tenants deemed to have been allocated too much living space by their local authorities will receive a reduced payment.

Only those of working age will see reduced payments. If tenants are deemed to have one spare room, the amount of rent eligible for housing benefit will be cut by 14%. If they have two or more spare rooms, the cut will be 25%. The number of bedrooms in the property will be determined by the landlord’s tenancy agreement, so you cannot claim a bedroom is actually a living room. The government says that will mean an average loss of about £14 a week for council tenants. Those who rent from housing associations are facing an average loss of about £16 a week, from benefits already assessed as being the bare minimum for survival, as fuel costs rocket.

Under the government’s “size criteria”, families will be assessed for the number of bedrooms they actually need. Benefit will only be payable on the basis that children under 16 of the same gender will share a room, and children under 10 will share a room regardless of their gender. Health issues or disability that require night-time care are not taken into account, meaning that children with profound disabilities are forced to share with siblings, regardless of how much care or space they require.  If a family member should die or leave, the household might be found to be under-occupying and see their rent assistance cut by 14%.

Foster parents will receive a cut even where their bedrooms are occupied by foster children, who for benefit purposes do not count as part of the household. Separated parents will be penalised for keeping a “spare” bedroom for when their children visit.

Disabled tenants will be allowed a bedroom for over-night full-time carers that are from a care provider, ie an agency. But unpaid carers, such as relatives or friends, do not count.

If your son or daughter joins the army, he or she will be away for more than 13 weeks at a time and their room will be assessed as unoccupied, meaning a 14% benefit cut.
See http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/bedroom-tax-army-mothers-soldier-1593987

A tax on caring

Essentially, the cuts are a tax on caring. I have found its effects shocking to witness, this past year. If you stand by your partner when he or she gets a terminal illness, sleeping in the boxroom or having a relative over at times to help out (it is practically impossible to lift a weak adult gently single-handed) you can find yourself facing ruin and eviction when you are at your most vulnerable from recent loss. Same when you care for your sick child at home. Or when you lose the elderly parent you took into your household when they couldn't manage alone any more and couldn't face the care-home.

Disabled people who need night-time help cannot have space for relatives or friends to sleep-in and provide it unpaid. They must pay a private agency £11+ an hour to qualify for space to get the sleep-in help they need. The carers thus employed are usually paid  minimum wages themselves, hardly enough to make their own rent, so no disrespect intended, but surely the freely-given care of committed altruists merits a few hours sleep too to keep them going and sane?

When a family member gets very ill or disabled, if they are not to be taken away to be 'managed' in an institution by strangers (often at considerable state expense), someone - usually a partner or family member - must take care of their needs at home. That someone may find themselves unable to hold down their job or education when a family member or partner desperately needs their care, day and night. When serious or chronic illness and disability strike, they are expensive, massively time-consuming and stressful. It can be the longest haul,  day and night, day after day, testing not just backbone but every ounce of resource that can be scraped from every sinew, brain cell and friendship, to be the person who is is needed. You will get no medals or pay, and few can recognise the true extent of your contribution. In fact your social status can drop through the floor. If you are a woman, such sacrifice is often assumed to be your natural role, regardless of your aspirations. And you will do your best to make it look easy. But if you need to call in state benefits to get through it, you are likely to hear yourself referred to as 'lazy scroungers'.  For the very elderly, illness or disability are hardly uncommon, and most of us inevitably face a period in our lives when we will rely on the kindness of others, whether they deem us to have earned it or not. The bedroom tax penalises such kindness.

The time of loss

Caring can often form a powerful bond. But when death breaks it, the survivor has little time to spare for grieving. First there is the funeral to pay for, and if it is for a partner you never married, you may have to raise these thousands yourself.  Far from getting care yourself in your time of loss, your benefits will be stopped and you must immediately make a fresh claim as a Jobseeker if you are of working age.

Your housing benefit will also require a fresh claim and reassessment. That tiny boxroom that is too small to sublet counts as a 'spare' bedroom. It means that you somehow have to find 14% extra to make the rent out of benefits that are a fraction of what you were receiving when you both worked or later as a couple with sickness or disability increments. Your savings may be gone, spent on a dying person's final weeks, or months, or perhaps even years of struggle and hope. The heating bills alone have been formidable.  You may well have debts, usually an overdraft.

You must run straight out into the world and get a job, and fast, and look for new digs, at a time when you so stunned by loss you can barely function.  A room in a shared house or a bedsit is your allocation if you are under 35. A 1-bedroom flat if you are older. A 2-bedroom if you have children. Rents rise without regulation and you will find nothing as cheap as the housing benefit allows. If you can find anything at all. You are likely to have to leave your neighbourhood and friends, at the time when you most desperately need stability and emotional support. You must raise money, somehow. And if you find a place, to squeeze into your new 'home' you must get rid of most of your possessions - and those of the person you have lost. You don't have time or strength to get a sensible price, or give things where they are most needed, or sort through your memories, it must all just go. The dispossessed are easy pickings and the vultures and pawnbrokers and quick cash shops are already waiting for you. At your most vulnerable, the state steps in and kicks away everything that remains of your life, throwing you to the dogs. I have seen it happen, exactly as I have described it.

Legal Challenge

A legal challenge against the benefit reduction has been launched against Iain Duncan Smith on behalf of 10 disabled and vulnerable children. (see Guardian report) All 10 of the children in the claims are expected to share a bedroom with siblings.  However, all have also been assessed as needing their own bedrooms – either due to disabilities, because they are at risk of violence from a sibling, or because of trauma experienced as a result of abuse and domestic violence.A Judicial Review hearing is expected in May - a month after the new rules come into effect.

Lancaster City Council

On 27 February Lancaster City Council, who are being forced to administer this cut by central government, passed the following resolution, proposed by Labour councillors:

This Council believes that the Government’s New Bedroom Tax is an unnecessary burden on hard-working families and will have devastating consequences on those people affected in Lancaster and Morecambe districts and resolves that the Chief Executive informs the Secretary of State Ian Duncan Smith, Minister for Works and Pensions, to register the Council’s opposition to this measure and request that it be reviewed”.

(Other local councils have raised an avalanche of similar objections.)  Scotforth West Green Councillor Chris Coates proposed a friendly amendment (which was accepted) that the council should look at re-classifying 2 and 3 bedroom council houses as smaller properties where extra rooms are not being used as bedrooms.

He said “This is a pernicious tax that will fall on some of the most vulnerable families in the district; we need to look at all options we can to help people affected by it. The retrospective nature of the tax makes it particularly unjust as people did not know about the limitation on benefit when they originally took up the tenancy. Up to 600 households could be affected across the district."

Labour Councillor David Whitaker said “The Bedroom Tax will have a detrimental impact upon many people on low incomes.  It will penalise people who are unemployed through no fault of their own and those people who need housing benefit to cover their rent.

“We have already seen drastic and unnecessary attacks upon people on low incomes in the last two years and with rocketing fuel bills this latest tax could risk putting many people into lifelong poverty and also put them in danger of losing their homes.

“With rents rising all the time and many people losing their jobs this Tax is unworkable and unrealistic.  It is another poll tax that attacks the wrong people and will cause hardship – it was formulated in order to make the poor poorer and the rich richer.  

“No one should be in fear of losing their home because they happen to have a spare room after children have left home. Access to decent housing is a human right and so is the right to remain in your home. Council housing was never meant to be a short term housing option.  The Government has moved the goal posts and changed the reason why council housing was provided in the first place – namely to provide a fundamental human right to decent housing.  It lifted people out of slum dwellings operated by unscrupulous landlords.

“The Bedroom Tax will result in mass evictions and homelessness and all the related challenges these issues will bring.  Many people affected will fall behind with their rent and other bills. No consideration has been allowed for disabled people who require a spare room for their carer to stay, or indeed many other reasons why a spare room might be needed.  The Government’s own figures show that almost two thirds of the people affected are disabled.

“This is a blatant attack upon a sector of society that often suffers financial hardship and frequently exists on low incomes.  There are alternatives, such as a mansion tax.  How shocking that this policy is introduced in the same month that David Cameron is cutting taxes for millionaires by almost £100,000
."

Labour Councillor Janet Hall noted:

"David Morris, our [Conservative] Morecambe and Lunesdale MP supported the welfare reform act. Unfortunately he isn’t quite as supportive of his constituents when they face hardship by the decisions he has made. 

"Despite claiming that the changes ‘were not intended to be punitive to individuals’ and acknowledging that ‘I have received a large amount of correspondence on this issue, which is clearly a cause of great concern to many people’ he goes on to say that ‘I, as an individual MP do not have the authority to ask for individual cases to be treated differently’, before laying the blame for any hardship suffered by a Lancaster City Council resident firmly at the door of Lancaster City Council. Having voted for the scheme, he now washes his hands of it. 

"Incidentally, David Morris claims £390 per week for the rent of a flat in Westminster. A rent paid by the taxpayer, much like housing benefit. I wonder how many bedrooms it has?"

• Labour Left is organising a National Day of Action across the country on Saturday 16th March to protest against the Bedroom Tax. To find out how you can get involved, visit
www.labourleft.co.uk/labour-lefts-day-of-action-against-the-bedroom-tax

These demonstrations are not exclusively for Labour Left or Labour Party members. If you are a local campaign group, union or just an individual who would like to express your views against this policy then you are welcome to get involved.

• You can email your MP to let them know your thoughts about these cuts targeting the most vulnerable and the most caring. Contact details can be found at http://www.parliament.uk/about/contacting/mp/

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I rent 2 rooms in a house. I now have to give up 1 of those rooms as this affects myself. My 2 daughters that come to stay EVERY WEEKEND, which are 9 & 13 will have to share the 1 room with me. Is there a law against this? I have to use a single bed myself as the room is tiny. Help please?