Tenants in social housing who are of working age will no longer be able to have spare bedrooms without paying a penalty in the form of a deduction from their housing benefit. Despite widespread protests on the 16th March, the UK Government’s unpopular “bedroom tax”, was introduced on the 1st April. It is expected to affect 660,000 households, of which nearly two-thirds have a disabled family member, where the extra room is necessary to meet their needs.
Protecting vulnerable tenants
For some tenants the deduction in housing benefit will mean they have to make the choice between making their rental payment and spending the money on another necessity such as food. Scotland has opposed the introduction of the bedroom tax and the Scottish Government has set aside extra money to allow guidance to be provided for those tenants who find themselves struggling from April onwards if they see their benefits cut; they have already called for the UK Government’s under occupancy scheme to be scrapped. Dundee City Council has also taken the step to protect all tenants who are unable to meet the shortfall in their rent due to the new bedroom tax. As long as the council’s director of housing is satisfied that tenants have done all that they can to avoid falling behind with their rent, they will not be evicted from the property they are renting; this is already considered to be a final resort and is rarely instigated unless really necessary when all other avenues have been exhausted. Scotland’s housing minister Margaret Burgess has encouraged landlords across the country to follow suit; she also suggested the function of spare rooms could be changed to avoid classification as an extra bedroom and the penalty.
Housing associations at risk
There has been a suggestion that housing associations could find themselves in a financial crisis of their own when tenants can’t pay their rent. However, some housing associations in England are taking measures to ensure that they are not left in financial difficulty themselves. For example, One Vision Housing in Liverpool has sent documents to 2,900 of its tenants that the new ruling will affect, explaining that they face legal action if they do not pay their rent in full; the new rules are explained in forms that tenants are required to sign and return to the housing association. Many tenants found the letters threatening and voiced their concerns via social media platforms. One Vision Housing responded by saying that tenants did not have to complete the forms and they were merely designed to remind tenants of what was expected of them.
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