Absolutely revolting: REBEL NOW!
Published on Friday 29 June 2012 12:05
PLANS to tax social housing tenants for ‘underoccupied’ bedrooms could hit Berwick harder than the rest of the country.
Monica Burns, the North East lead manager for the National Housing Federation (NHF), has outlined some concerns about the impact on the area and its implementation.
The Millfield resident says 1,171 Berwick households face a choice between moving or paying the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ on their spare rooms.
At present, Berwick ranks amongst the very cheapest constituencies in terms of average rent for social housing. But under the new scheme, Ms Burns says the most vulnerable tenants could have to find an extra £460 a year for their ‘underused’ bedroom, or be rehoused. That is the equivalent of nearly two months’ extra average rent per year.
Ms Burns believes there are other issues not yet addressed, particularly in an area with an ageing population.
She explained: “We worry about how the scheme will be rendered regarding people approaching retirement age. Those over the working age are exempted from the under-occupancy tax.
“But if they are two years from retirement, do we move them, or do we allow them to ‘grow’ into their houses until they are exempt?
“Moving families would be a very costly exercise. It costs around £3,000 to move a single household, so that’s £6,000 to resolve one situation.
“There are plans for disabled people to receive payments to help them meet the under-occupation tax, but that is also flawed. The plan is for the payments to be made at the discretion – and ‘discretion’ is the word – of local authorities. And it would be assessed annually, so in effect people would be going cap in hand every year for the right to stay in their own home.
“There are also fears that future governments could reverse or change the execution of the tax. Social housing tenants feel they are reduced to a political football. Like our chief executive said, the only crime these people have committed is to be poor.”
The NHF has asked for assurances that rates will not increase if the tax does not make the expected savings in the welfare budget. It feels the Government’s plan doesn’t take into account people’s real-life situations.
“One-bed flats just aren’t available, especially not in this area,” added Ms Burns. “So Berwick Borough Housing has a good selection of two- and three-bedroom houses, but few options if it came to rehousing ‘under-occupiers’.”
There are fears that a constituency like Berwick might spiral into a ‘tsunami’ of debt and difficulty when the new measures kick in April.
Ms Burns agreed: “People use words like ‘a perfect storm’, and it’s true.”
Government plans to remove housing benefits for those under 25 could also contribute to Berwick’s ‘perfect storm.’
With so many young people leaving the area and returning sporadically to live with their parents, many are dependent on spare bedrooms.
Currently, there are no plans to protect spare rooms occasionally used in this way.
Amendments have been made to the under-occupancy tax in order to preserve bedrooms that permit overnight ‘access’ visits by children following marital breakdowns; bedrooms of children who require care during the night; and rooms for couples who have to sleep separately for medical reasons.
An additional bedroom is also allowed where it enables a family to foster children.