SMILING CARCASS'S TWO-PENNETH

Commenting on social, political, economic and general topics

THE REALITIES OF THE ‘BEDROOM TAX’

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I have just received my quarterly rent statement. Included is some information concerning the new ‘Bedroom Tax’.

On the face of it, and reading and listening to government propaganda this is a good thing, designed to help tenants to move to more suitable accommodation. Of course, nobody suggests that a peer of the realm living in a country house with fifteen bedrooms is living in unsuitable accommodation; nobody suggests a banker living in a similarly under-occupied dwelling needs help to move to more suitable housing; because they can afford to pay. It means for tenants, both council and private the more affluent you are, the better able you will be to under occupy and pay the surcharge. This ‘Bedroom Tax’ is, therefore in reality a ‘Poverty Tax’ and the poorer you are, the harder it will hit. And make no mistake, if you are on benefits you will be expected to pay this tax out of your benefits; so if your rent is £76 and you under occupy by one bedroom your benefits will be reduced by £10.46; two bedrooms will see a surcharge of 25% or £19.00- which you will be expected to find out of your benefits. It is not a benefits reduction so much as a rent increase; I have it on good authority that this will not just affect those in receipt of benefits; if you work and pay full rent and under occupy, you will pay a surcharge; effectively, if you have a spare room, you will pay more rent than a tenant in a similar- or identical- property that is not assessed as being under occupied.

This is being done by a government who claims it wishes to reduce state interference and control; the documentation estimates this will affect ONE THIRD of Tamworth’s working age tenants, private and council.

There are many aspects of this unfair, unjust and frankly indefensible strategy that the government has either not considered or refuses to acknowledge. It certainly is not openly discussing them. So I offer you some of the implications this ‘proposed’ (although my documentation clearly states ‘From April 2013, there will be reduced housing benefit payments to tenants who are under occupying social housing.’) legislation fails, at least currently, to address.

On their own website, http://www.conservatives.com/policy/where_we_stand/family.aspx the Tories clearly state ‘We are committed to encouraging shared parenting and firmly believe that children should have meaningful relationships with both parents after separation.’ Many poorer parents will not be able to accommodate this. If you are a parent that does not live with your children, and have a spare room to accommodate weekend visits you will be assessed as under occupied. Effectively, you will have to pay for the right to have your children stay with you and if you cannot afford the surcharge, you will be required to move to accommodation that will not facilitate weekend visits- or to quote from the above accommodation that will severely restrict children’s ‘meaningful relationships with both parents after separation.’

The proposed legislation does not explain who will pay removal costs, including transportation, new carpets, curtains and other quite legitimate sundry furniture

There appears to be no provision for tools or other equipment or for that matter any possessions accumulated, quite possibly and probably over a lifetime; are we expected to dispose of these items? It is certain that a home with fewer bedrooms will not facilitate the possessions one might amass in a house. I personally would not be able to accommodate my tools, DIY, professional and garden in a flat and would not wish nor be able to store them in a remote shed that is less than a quarter of the size of my current storage facilities.

And while on the subject of removals, moving house is one of the most stressful things you can do in life, even when the move is to better accommodation and done by personal choice; how much more stressful will the move be for folk unable to pay the government’s surcharge and thus effectively forced from their home? In particular, I worry that as with benefits caps, that government convinced the electorate it was the right thing to do this is an extension of that principle and that eventually the elderly will be affected by this legislation; to move an 80 year old from a house they have occupied for 40 years or more, against their will because they cannot afford to pay will result in deaths; I make no apologies. Old folk will die.

How will the proposed legislation deal with a situation where a couple separate, but both continue to live in the same home using separate bedrooms, both of whom are named tenants, neither of whom wish to move out and who have a platonic and amicable relationship?

Many tenants only means of relaxation, their hobby and increasingly their only means of reducing their food bill by ‘growing their own’ is gardening. Take this away and we may create an army of despondent tenants who could well become ill and be a greater burden on the state than if they were allowed to remain in their current homes without the threat of paying more than they can afford.

Which brings me to compensation; will I be compensated for the work I have done and paid for developing and improving my garden and home; you know- the things that make it ‘mine’? And if I am over occupied and need an extra room- or even two- will the council compensate me with a rent rebate if I do not already have one or an increased rebate if I do? I think not; this is another example of one-sided legislation that is not designed to help as is suggested but to instigate government and council policy of offloading the housing stock so that taxes can be reduced and who benefits most from reduced taxation?; the wealthy. It is legalised blackmail- pay up or else.

A word of warning for the homeowner, who may well consider this to be of little interest to them; supposing you have a tenant neighbour, keeping their garden tidy, socially responsible and an all round good neighbour under occupying their property. They cannot afford the Bedroom Tax and are forced to move. The next tenant may not be so socially responsible so do not assume that as a homeowner you are insulated from this draconian legislation.

There also appears to be no provision for an under occupier that cannot be moved because (suitable) alternative accommodation is not available; will they be liable for the surcharge? If they cannot pay, will they begin to accrue rent arrears?

I also have concerns that an individual with rent arrears, paying them off under a suspended possession order under which they are required to pay their rent plus an agreed sum off the arrears might find themselves summarily evicted not because they failed to pay their rent plus an agreed sum, but because they cannot pay their rent, plus arrears plus this surcharge.

And social networks- the very ‘Big Society’ associations this government wants to see develop and replace government support; after a few years, one develops strong ties to a neighbourhood. Support networks of friends and neighbours will disintegrate, leading to the ghettoisation of estates and streets.

Many of us will remember, in the early 1980’s legislation that was (ostensibly) designed to have the opposite effect to this; I refer to Thatcher’s ‘Poll Tax’. The intent was that under occupying homeowners who could not afford their rates, calculated on the value of their homes would not have to move to smaller (more suitable!) accommodation because the burden of paying for services would be redistributed according to occupation of a dwelling rather than its value. Of course, we all knew the real idea and effect of this Poll Tax was to reduce the amount the rich paid and increase the amount the poor paid. This legislation will have a similar (calculated) consequence; it will have the effect of allowing the more affluent to have a greater choice in where and how they live (as did the Poll Tax, and its equally unfair progeny, the Council Tax) and reduce the ability of the less affluent to have the same choice.

In summary, this new tax will penalise the poor; the poorer you are, the more it will affect you. It will remove the secure tenancy guaranteed by the 1985 Housing Act for the tenants of local authorities and other public bodies. Councils will be able to ask you to move without recourse to the courts if you cannot or will not pay their artificially high rent. One of the provisions in the 1985 Housing Act is the right for secure tenants to take in lodgers. For certain purposes (as suits the council and/or government) adult children living at home are classed as lodgers; for example, if I apply for housing benefit an adult child’s earnings are taken into consideration as a non-dependent; if that same adult child applies for a housing benefit, as a lodger they somewhat magically become a family member. If I have a lodger occupying a room, will I still be under occupied, regardless of whether this lodger is a family member or not?

The overall effect of this legislation will be to see more affluent families moving into and buying council accommodation; sitting tenants will be more inclined to purchase rather than move or pay the surcharge. Effectively, the council will offload its housing stock by the back door.

This is a national, government policy not a local one; it will affect us all; local councils will not have a choice; write to your councillors and MP’s telling them you do not agree with this legislation and believe it to be an unfair burden on the poor.

Finally, I will quote the great Woody Guthrie, from his song ‘Pretty Boy Floyd’;

“Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered
I’ve seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

And as through your life you travel,
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won’t never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home.”

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Written by Smiling Carcass

08/06/2012 at 4:13 PM

Posted in HOUSING BENEFIT

Tagged with ,

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