Swindon Council organised a briefing for tenants on Friday on the Council’s proposal for a ‘back-up fund’ for people affected by the ‘bedroom tax’. Currently the Council has money from the government in the form of the ‘discretionary housing payment’ which can be used to help tenants in financial difficulties. They have been given ￡281,000 for this year. According to the latest figures 1,095 households are subject to a cut in their housing benefit, roughly 4 out of 5 facing a cut of 14% the rest a cut of 25%. Consequently the DHP money is unlikely to last the year. Of the households affected only around 150 have received a DHP payment thus far, for 18 weeks only, because of the uncertainty over how far the money will stretch. So there are no guarantees that those who have been given a DHP payment will continue to receive it for the rest of the year.
We understand that the impact on tenants who have had their Housing Benefit cut is so severe that half of those affected are already in arrears. The figure would be higher but for the DHP payments already given out. It remains to be seen how this situation develops, but it is worrying that such a high levels of arrears has occurred so soon after the introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’; less than two months into it. This is largely a case of people having very little money to live on. In fact a third of the households affected were in arrears before the start of the ‘bedroom tax’. This suggests that many of these are tenants on Job Seekers Allowance who have an income of only ￡71 a week. From this pittance they are supposed to pay their rent contribution, as well as a Council Tax contribution resulting from the Council’s decision that everybody will have to pay at least 20%. How are they supposed to live on whay remains?
The Council is proposing to use ￡420,000 from the Housing Revenue Account as a ‘back-up’ fund which can be used if the DHP pot runs out. Tenants are being asked to pay for the government’s HB cuts with a reduced service. Although it’s not a lot from an income of ￡46 million, once you start using money which is supposed to be for the upkeep of tenants homes, where do you stop if arrears continue to rise?
If the ruling group does not call for the repeal of this legislation then they are complicit in it. Whilst the use of a ‘back-up’ fund indicates that they are not keen to evict people, they will have to face up to the question of whether or not they do if the arrears of some tenants continue to build up as a result of the fact that they simply do not have enough of an income to cover all the costs of the barest necessities of life. We think they should recognise the impossible situation that people face and commit to not evicting people thrown into financial difficulties by the ‘bedroom tax’.
Swindon Tenants Campaign Group is currently collecting signatures on a petition on the ‘bedroom tax’ which calls on the Council to do two things:
- To recognised that the ‘bedroom tax’ is unjust and to press the government to repeal it.
- To make a commitment that they will not evict people who are thrown into financial difficulties specifically as a result of the ‘bedroom tax’.
We have collected just over 1,000 signatures so far. To help us collect more, download a petition above, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or ring us on 07786 394593 and we can send you some.
PS. The argument that the ‘bedroom tax’ will make ‘best use’ of housing stock has always been false. We can now see what has happened in practice. Of 1095 households affected only 65 have so far moved homes. This will only have a marginal impact on the housing crisis, since there are now 15,688 households on the list, and 7,292 on the priority list (a rise in just three months of 675 and 282). It continues to rise because the government is not addressing the Council housing shortage by promoting new building.