As we approach the date when working age tenants will have to start paying a percentage of their rent if they have one or more ‘spare’ bedrooms, the picture is emerging of the response of tenants. In Swindon thus far only a small number have either moved or indicated that they want to move to a smaller property. Obviously the picture changes day by day, but we have been informed that only 29 people have moved and 85 others have asked to move. In other words 9 out of 10 tenants have either decided that they are not going to be forced out of their home or simply that they cannot afford to move. Not only do they face the cost of transport, but moving into a smaller property often means that their furniture is too big, and probably there won’t be enough room for their belongings. No assistance to help with the cost of moving is currently available from the Council. 

The legislation has been a source of great anxiety for people who are being financially penalised because they receive Housing Benefit (those who pay full rent, and pensioners are unaffected even if they have ‘spare’ rooms). However, the overwhelming majority of people have decided to stick it out and and manage as best they can, because they do not want to move out of their home. They have spent time and money improving them and many have lived there for decades, putting roots down in their local community.

The latest stats show that 253 Swindon Council tenants have 2 or more ‘spare’ bedrooms and 860 have 1 ‘spare’ . So the break-down looks like this.

229 living in a 3 bedroom property ‘need’ 1 bed (will have to pay 25% of rent)

445 living in 3 bed who ‘need’ a 2 bed (will have to pay 14% of rent)

386 living in 2 bed who need 1 bed (will have to pay 14% of rent)

53 tenants living in 4 bed or larger who would need variously smaller property (29 will have to pay 14% and 24 will have to pay 25% of their rent)

Whilst it’s easier for tenants to manage paying 14% than 25%, we shouldn’t forget that those receiving Council Tax Benefit, as well as Housing Benefit, will have to pay at least 20% of their Council Tax.

Of course, a change in the composition of a household, e.g. a dependent leaving home, will mean that more tenants will  be deemed to be ‘under-occupying’ and will fall subject to the ‘bedroom tax’.

In addition, when Universal Credit comes in, the rules on ‘mixed age couples’ will change. Currently, if one member of a household is of retirement age and the partner is not, they will not be liable to pay the bedroom tax. However, when Universal Credit comes in both have to be over retirement age in order to be exempt from paying. According to estimates in the press this will mean 67,000 part-pensioner households nationally will be subject to paying.

What seems clear at this stage is that very few homes will be ‘freed’ up in line with the government’s expectations. The shortage of homes of the ‘right’ size is underlined by the latest waiting list statistics from January 2013. 5,098 households ‘qualify’ for a one bedroom property – 4,452 on the waiting list and 644 existing tenants who are caught by the bedroom tax. Even if those who require to downsize to a one bedroom property (in order to avoid paying the bedroom tax) were given preference over those on the waiting list, this would take at least six years. Of course, the smaller numbers who have applied to move may be more easily accommodated, we will have to see. If, however, the financial pressures prove unbearable then increased applications to move will be more difficult to accommodate. But the absence of homes of the ‘right’ size means that there is liable to be an increase in arrears.

What’s clear from these statistics is that the ‘bedroom tax’ cannot have anything other than a marginal impact on the housing shortage. When it comes in in April it will sit beside the tac cut for those earning £150,000 a year. Some of these people will gain more from their tax cut than the bedroom tax victims have to live on in a week.


Martin Wicks

February 17th 2013