Tony is a single man who was given a 2 bedroom flat by his Council more than 20 years ago. He says he would have been happy with a one bedroom flat, but they offered a 2 bedroom one and he accepted. He wasn’t to know that one day their decision would have consequences for him. Today he is deemed to be ‘under-occupying’ so he finds himself to be one of the victims of the ‘bedroom tax’.
If he was working and paying full rent, or he was a pensioner, then he would be OK. Unfortunately, he was made redundant in 2009 and has had to rely on Housing Benefit and Job Seekers Allowance to get by. Before that he had always worked and paid full rent. He has struggled to find work, partly because of his age – he’s now 54 – but also because health problems restrict the sort of job he could do. He suffers from arthritic pain in his joints and lower back resulting from years of heavy lifting in work. He cannot sit or stand for long periods. As a result he has struggled to get back into the labour market.
The princely sum that he has to live on is £71 a week. Even so he doesn’t really complain, it’s just the prospect of having to live on even less is a real worry.
“It’s not ideal for me but I can manage to get by with thrifty budgeting. I was always happy to pay rent rather than buy the property from the Council. My reasoning was always, I pay the rent, they do the repairs etc. I never envisaged there would come a time when my tenancy was in doubt. Why should I move out after paying thousands of pounds of rent and thousands in refurbishment over the years? I’ve paid over £80,000 in rent and Council Tax.”
Tony now faces having to pay £12 out of his £71. He says “it is really going to cripple me”.
He has applied on two occasions for ESA but was passed fit for work. He appealed on both occasions, but failed. He reckons (along with many other people) that it’s “virtually impossible” to pass an Atos test. You can understand what he means when you know that somebody who is terminally ill with a life expectancy of more than six months is deemed “fit for work”. If you have a life expectancy of less than six months, you are ‘lucky’, they let you off having to try to find work before your imminent death.
What about taking in a lodger? In fact, over the years he’s lived in his flat he’s taken in a lodger on 3 occasions – people from work who needed accommodation at the time.
“But it’s never worked out, and caused major friction between me and all three people, and these were people I knew fairly well. These places are not very spacious. Basically I’m quite a private person. I know from experience, me taking in a lodger is not an option.”
So Tony is being penalised because the Council gave him a 2 bedroom flat, because he was made redundant, and what are really work injuries make it difficult for him to find a job. Even with his £71 he sometimes doesn’t turn the heating on because of fear of being unable to pay the bill. But he doesn’t see why he should be driven out of his home because circumstances have conspired against him.
“Having paid so much rent and Council tax over a long period I never envisaged I’d be asked to move. I consider this my home now, and I’ve no wish to leave.”
It must be galling for him that at the very time that he will be expected to pay around £12.00 a week out of £71, the government is reducing tax for the rich. For many of them the increase they will get will be more than the miserable pittance he is expected to live on for a year.