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Is the 'bedroom tax' unfair and unworkable?

The government has got into a mess with the ‘bedroom tax’, its latest way to cut the country's enormous social security bill.

Is the 'bedroom tax' unfair and unworkable?

The government has got into a mess with the ‘bedroom tax’, its latest way to cut the country's enormous social security bill.

The proposal is actually called the 'under occupancy tax' but 'bedroom tax' is catchier and captures what it is about: cutting housing benefit for council tenants with spare rooms. One spare room sees housing benefit cut by 14%, two or more rooms by 25%. The average loss in benefit will be around £14 a week. 

The government's idea is to cut the £23 billion spent on housing benefit each year and encourage people into work.

But the changes – which will hit around 660,000 social tenants, or nearly a third of people of working age who claim housing benefit – have caused a storm of protest.

The most controversial point is the impact on disabled people and families caring disabled relatives, who need the extra space.

Parents who have separated but have a spare room because they share the care of their children will also be caught out – only the main carer will receive the extra benefit.

A couple with a spare room because one of them is recovering from an illness or operation will see their income cut. So will foster carers because foster children are not counted as part of the household for benefit purposes.

So far it's the disability issue that is provoking anger. Welfare secretary Iain Duncan Smith has told his officials to 'look again' at how disabled people will be affected and how civil servants can identify people who should be exempt. They need to move quickly because the changes are meant to be introduced in April.

Another issue is the lack of smaller housing in both the social or private sector for tenants to move into. 

Stephen Timms, shadow minister for employment, has said it would be rare to levy a penalty on housing benefit claimants who refused to take smaller accommodation but ‘to penalise people when there’s nowhere smaller to move to is perverse’.

He gave the example of Hull where 4,700 tenants will be affected by the 'bedroom tax' but the council only has 73 one or two-bedroom properties available. He said the situation was ‘not untypical’.

Tenants renting in the private sector who receive housing benefit are not affected, so it's possible that if the government does want to force people into the private sector the housing benefit bill will not go down.

Amid all the emotive debate, it's clear the government has more thinking to do.

14 comments so far. Why not have your say?

Philip Drew

Feb 22, 2013 at 15:46

I pay 3 times for my accomodation

1) I pay Tax that is used to pay somebody elses rent

2) I pay the rent on my own accomodation at an artificially inflated price because I am competing with people I am subsidising through housing benefit

3) Because the Goverment is using QE to artificially prop up house prices I am paying through lost savings income

Can't make up my mind if I should riot or just emigrate!!!!!

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Feb 22, 2013 at 16:17

Clearly well thought out - reminds me of what a successful idea the poll tax was......i

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Philip Drew

Feb 22, 2013 at 16:31

why has my post been removed?

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Mike Greenland

Feb 22, 2013 at 16:55

Philip, nice thoughts, elderly care is a similar smoke and mirrors effect, you several times for others who are subsidised by you paying an inflated price. The gov't is still spending far too much money that it does not have. Take a scythe to public spending I say.

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Ryszard Filipiak

Feb 22, 2013 at 17:08

These changes have been known for many months. So social landlords have been working to support their tenants for some time. Its only the media that has just woken up and started paying attention. I work in the benefits field so I know that many of the benefit claimants can afford to make up the difference in their rent even after the cut. Secondly, local authorities have discretionary funds that they can use to support those who cannot make up the difference and are unable to move. Thirdly, even if IDS makes some changes now it will be impossible for local authorities to change their computer systems before April.

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Feb 22, 2013 at 18:07

For Social Housing where disability requires that additional bedroom(s) are necessary the taxpayer should pay - i.e housing benefit should be given to those that qualify.

Where additional bedrooms exist above a bedroom requirement though, the taxpayer should not be expected to pay the rent on these.

These Housing Benefit rules already operate for those renting in the Private Rented sector.

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Roger Bailey

Feb 22, 2013 at 20:07

The bedroom tax is reasonable considering those that have the benefit of council housing are already paying much lessthan those who have to rent in the private sector.

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steven fieldfare

Feb 22, 2013 at 22:07

Agree with much of the sentiment and comment that has gone before. Whatever Government does to rein in unsustainable welfare programmes immediately draws fire from vested interests, publicising exceptional cases to the rule that could easily be sorted out with commonsense in applying them. What otherwise is the purpose of paying managers?

A real reported obstacle would seem shortages of one and 2 bedroom public housing to implement fully the scheme. Is it not time for perhaps for rapid build modern design prefabs to ease supply (and mop up some youth and benefit unemployment)? If you want rent free or subsidised accommodation, and are fit, then help build it?

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Feb 22, 2013 at 22:19

The bedroom tax isn't really fair but it's more fare than larger families being stuck in accommodation without enough rooms.

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Roger Bailey

Feb 22, 2013 at 22:35

Go to somewhere like the Philipines where it is quite usual for families to sleep 10 people in one room, People on benefits in the UlK are more than spoilt

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neil shearn

Feb 22, 2013 at 22:59

Accepting that those on Housing benefit only need one bedroom, it should be incumbant on the Local Authority to find such appropriate accomodation rather than the draconian measures proposed.

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Feb 23, 2013 at 09:36

To all you contributors who support this Tory policy you are short sighted. The same arguments can be levelled at private housing with unused bedrooms being subsidised by other rate payers and a future government has now a precedent set to apply additional rate demands on unused rooms.

The only reason there is a shortage of social housing is because the Tories and Labour sold them off and did nothing to replace them. The problem has been exasperated by our open door to encouraged immigration making our housing problem worse. The UK is shackled by governments who don’t have the first idea of how to plan for the future hence we are now heading for an energy crisis.

Be careful what you wish for! Private house owner.

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Philip Drew

Feb 23, 2013 at 10:11


I have no problem with LVT - building land is rationed by political diktat creating an artificial shortage. This shortage has caused people to borrow foolish amounts to "own their own home" and has bankrupted the economy. It seems only reasonable that the home owners that have caused the mess should contribute through the tax system rather than simply milking to extinction income earners.

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steven fieldfare

Feb 23, 2013 at 10:41

It seems that more recent comment has subsided into social/political argument over who should pay and who has failed to provide.

SMS suggests that Governments haven't the first idea - you could equally argue that they act as they do because of their constituency, that increasingly seeks short term fixes and gratification, for little self effort, or else.

Voters seem to have aspirations beyond their means to pay, have borrowed beyond any sensible National credit, and now seek to spend any remaining accrued and saved National wealth to keep the bonfire going. They look around for others to blame, rather than look to themselves.

We are where we are, skint, and it seems to me that we are going to have to cut our cloth for a while. That must include an element of self-sufficiency among those in need, but who are able. That is why I suggested rapid build prefabricated housing, providing employment primarily among those on benefits. Is land supply really a problem? It is for "omeless and ungry" of Westminster. But in Liverpool and other Northern wastelands houses are available for one pound on condition of restoration and living in them.

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