The government are changing housing benefits from April 2013. When ever a government changes benefits or taxes there is bound to be some anxiety from those who receive them.
Whilst I acknowledge that such changes are an
opportunity for opposition parties to hit the government, there is a fine line
between highlighting and scrutinising the actions of government and scaring
people in their own homes needlessly.
As we have seen when changes were
introduced to tax credits and freezing tax thresholds of retired people (granny
tax) Labour will happily cross the line. Personally I think all politicians of
all colours have every right to criticise governments but with it a
responsibility to keep things factual, so that is what I will do, leaving my
opinion to the end.
As we know the government
inherited a huge debt and record deficit and all the main parties have accepted
that a combination of spending cuts and tax increases are needed to reduce that
We should not forget that the interest on the UK's debts is now one of
the biggest areas of spend. Welfare is a huge area of spending, again it is
agreed by all parties that savings must be found. Within welfare, Housing
benefit costs the tax payer over £20bn a year and it has been growing fast in
the last 15 years. To prove how widely accepted reforms are, last year Iain
Duncan Smith suggested the costs would pass £25bn if Labour were in power,
Douglas Alexander (the Labour spokesman at the time) said it wouldn't as they
would reform housing benefit (he didn't say how). Nationally at least there is
a consensus - Tax payers can't afford the housing benefit bill, it needs
What are the
Housing benefits have
previously been capped in terms of cost, so the new changes only deal with those
in socially rented accommodation. I should make it clear that those who have
reached retirement age are exempt from the new rules. For those aged 16-61 you
may be effected if you have a spare bedroom.
The governments plan is that the tax payer should only have to
meet the cost of renting the space you need, rather than the space you have. If
you're a couple with one child in a three bedroom house, the government consider
you to have a spare room and will reduce the housing benefit they pay you by
14%. If you are a couple with no children in a 3 bed house, your housing
benefits will be reduced by 25%.
You may only get some of your rent paid by housing benefit. The
reduction will still apply in the same way. So if your rent is £90pw and you
get £20 Housing benefit, but have a spare room, your benefit will cover
It does get a little more
complex when you get to the detail of what is a spare room. A couple are
entitled to a room as is each individual over 16. Two children of the same sex
under 16 would be entitled to one room as would 2 children under 10 regardless
of there gender. You may also be entitled to a further bedroom if you have a
carer who provides overnight care.
Is is fair?
first thing to remember is the government have no money, this is not new, they
never had money. All Governments do is decide how much tax payers should give
and how it is spent. We know there is a big housing shortage in the Country
especially here is Basingstoke. At present there are families who live in
cramped conditions but simply can't afford to buy or rent the 3 bedroom home
they need. These are often working people who pay taxes to cover the rent of
those who are not working and living in luxury by comparison. Why should people
with a shortage of bedrooms, subsidise those with a spare one?
Against that people will argue that they
have lived in their home for many years, maintained it throughout there tenancy,
developed links with the community. Why should they be penalised because their
children have left home?
In an ideal
world we'd have sufficient housing for everyone (and a big argument about where
that housing should be). We'll all have our own idea of fair and which of the
above arguments is strongest.
should you do?
Don't panic. There
are a number of options if you don't think you can afford the extra
If you think the changes will apply to you,
speak to you housing association as soon as possible to confirm it. Remember if
you are a pensioner, live in a one bed flat or bed-sit or don't get housing
benefit, the changes will not apply to you.
If you have a disability or receive care you should contact the
Council. You can't cover every circumstance in a blog or leaflet and there may
be discretionary payments available.
Talk to the benefits Agency. The benefits system became so
complex over recent years that some people have found themselves in a situation
where they would like to work but would be worse of if they did. This policy is
one of many that are trying to prevent that happening and you could find you're
better off being in employment. Equally there may be other benefits you are
entitled to and it is worth checking this out.
Check with your housing provider about the rules of renting out
your spare room. There are also professionals who work here Monday - Friday who
are looking for a room to rent to reduce there commuting costs. It may not be
the right thing for you but could be an option in some cases.
Check with your housing provider
about transfer. If your housing needs have got smaller, you may want to look at
exchanging with a family who need more space. In many ways this housing benefit
policy may not be just about reducing the cost of housing benefit to the tax
payer, but to make better use of the housing stock.
Getting off the fence!
The above is a summary intended to be informative and unbiased.
In my view, the Government has made steps to increase the fairness in the
system for tax payers. Tax payers in cramped conditions should not be expected
to pay rent for others to have spare rooms. In addition, anything that gets
people out of the benefit trap has to be good.
It would be difficult for anyone who has for many years campaigned against the Council tax subsidy for empty homes to then not support ending the subsidy on empty rooms.
However not for the first time
it is implementation rather than the policy where the problems exist.
Did it have to happen all in one go?
Could they not freeze Housing benefit
for those with a spare room(s) phasing in the reforms over a few years, giving
people more time to decide/plan or get used to funding the extra rent?
And how is someone on a limited income supposed
to move? Unless they are lucky enough to move a few doors away and have the
support of their family how will they meet the removal costs? Where was the one off removal fund?
It is not unique to any government, a case
of a good idea not well delivered.
If you do spot an error in the summary please let me know, I
want it to be right. And feel free to comment below.