Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bedroom tax is too inflexible: Liverpool case-study

Further to my blog on the bedroom tax statistics for Liverpool highlighting its scope and punitive cost,
I  wanted to highlight another key problem with this policy.

And the best way to do that is with a case-study which has just been raised at my councillors' advice surgery.

My constituent is living in a three-bedroom property in Kensington, Liverpool with one of her adult sons who is 26 years old. They are both unable to work for health reasons. Her other son left home some years ago but prior to that they had a room each and were happily catered for. The Government now says that if she wants to stay in the property she will have to pay about £10 per week (14% of her rent) extra out of a diminishing income because they have a spare room.

My constituent says that if she and her son are able to successfully apply for and move to a two-bedroom property (no mean feat by the way giving the availability of suitable smaller properties) it may only be a very short-term solution. Because as she said to me, "Louise, I don't want to think of him living with me forever. What happens if he wants to move out to a place of his own in a year's time, I will have to move all over again!".

And this perfectly illustrates a key failing in the policy.

Under the bedroom tax legislation, if someone ensures that they are always occupying at exactly the right level, thus avoiding punitive rent costs and Daily Mail disapproval, they will have to move every time their family circumstances change.

Here are a few examples;
  • A family whose children leave home to become independent will have to immediately down-size to avoid paying the bedroom tax on the spare room. Presumably, the Government would want to see two removal vans at the front door, one for the child, one for the parents.
  • Should that child wish to return, the family will have to immediately up-size to avoid over-crowding, unless they want to put a z-bed up in the corner of the living room. I am not sure how the rules will apply to parents with children at University who want to come home sometimes, if only to get their washing done! Perhaps someone can advise.
  • Should a couple with no children become parents they will need to up-size either pretty soon, if it is a baby who they can keep with them in their bedroom for the time being, or immediately if it is an older child, through adoption and needing their own bedroom. An aspirant family cannot forward plan their living space, they cannot move to a bigger place ready to start a family. (Just try working that scenario through in your head; which comes first? trying for a baby, pregnancy, birth or the baby reaching say 6 months old before you are allowed to apply for your bigger home, and when would you actually move?). Or perhaps the Government doesn't think couples on benefits should be allowed to have a baby?
  • Should one of a pair or number of adult siblings, or relatives living together other than as a couple, move out, they will have to immediately down-size.

If under-occupancy is the result of a death, you may  be allowed up to 12 months grace before the changes apply to you.

Most families fluctuate as people move in, move out, grow up, move on, come home, have more children, take the grandchildren to live with the grandparents, and so on...

But no consideration is given to the flexible requirements of these working-age families, or the fact that this is the group most likely to experience changing housing need and circumstances.

It is unsustainable to suggest that people should move time and again as their circumstances change.

For individual tenants;
  • There is often nowhere for them to move to of the appropriate size
  • The process of identifying and being accepted for a suitable property can take a long time
  • The costs of moving are very expensive - removal vans, new carpets and decoration etc
  • Families react to emergencies, providing short and long-term support for each other
  • People take much better care of their home when they have a long-term investment in it (because they have lived there for years)
  • Remaining children may be required to move schools if they are obliged to move to a new area
 For neighbourhoods;
  • Strong communities are built where people know their neighbours and look out for them  and where people have pride in their street and their property. They establish roots, engage in the local TRA or Neighbourhood Watch and generally enjoy living where they do.
  • Contrast this with the worst areas in my ward, those with the greatest amount of ASB and environmental blight, and where nobody comes to the door when you knock. These are those with the most transient populations, those with short-term lets and nobody ever gets to know each other.  The Government will be creating transient populations with these measures.
Unfortunately, to make the situation even worse in terms of availability of smaller homes, Housing Associations like mine in Liverpool are now having to grant appropriately sized tenancies to people based upon the possibility that they may become a recipient of housing benefit, even if they are paying their rent at the moment. We have never allowed tenants to hugely under-occupy, the needs based system would never allow for that, but now we have to be as prescriptive with this group as with HB claimants. It will come at a price; we may struggle to find tenants for some larger properties as we safe-guard their position (and our own financial viability) from the start of a tenancy.

It would also of course be discriminatory to say that one tenant/family could under-occupy and their neighbours could not, with the same landlord, just because one was paying the rent themselves while the other was in receipt of housing benefit.

It seems that an Englishman's home is only his castle so long as he is not a social housing tenant, otherwise it is rather more of a transit camp before the next required move comes along.


Anonymous said...

children/young adults going away to university have not actually left home in my experience and still need somewhere to live outside of term time or they will be effectively homeless. I have two children currently at university who come home during their holidays and it is important for them to feel that they do still have a home to come back to when they have finished their studies.I would not like to think of their studies being affected by concerns over where/how they are going to live outside of term times.
However my biggest concern, although it does not effect me directly, is the effect on the children of separated couples who will no longer feel they have a place in the lives of the parent they are not living with full time. It is vital for a child's well being when parents split up to still feel that they are a part of both their parents lives and having a bedroom of their own in both homes is part of that.
I hope someone in this situation takes their case to the courts to determine that this new 'bedroom tax' will be detrimental to the child's rights and well being when this is implemented.

Anonymous said...

If families have to constantly move to fit the bedroom tax criterias then the houses will no longer be lovingly cared for as they are now (in most cases). No one will bother to decorate except for a splash, gardens will be left to grow wild, fences will not be tendered. Cus let's face it who in the hell is going to pay for a beautiful garden etc knowing that in a few years time someone else will have the pleasure of your hard toil. Housing estates will be like sumat off "shameless" and that will also bring down the prices for private houses, there are always ripples .....