From: Inside edge

Jules Burch, Inside Housing


Whether it’s the UN, the Lib Dem conference or tribunals in Fife, the cracks in the bedroom ceiling are growing by the day.

As Pete Apps reports for Inside Housing, only two members of the junior coalition party voted against a grassroots motion at the conference in Glasgow yesterday calling for an immediate evaluation of the controversial policy.

The motion condemned the policy that Lib Dem MPs were instructed to call the ‘spare room subsidy’ for ‘discriminating against the most vulnerable in society’. Richard Kemp, former leader of Liverpool Council, called it ‘reprehensible and evil’ and Baroness Shirley Williams, probably the party’s senior figure, called it a ‘big mistake’.

A separate poll of party members by the website Lib Dem Voice found that 53 per cent were opposed. That’s a lower proportion than at the Glasgow conference though the comments suggest that a number of them support the principle of the policy while deploring the implementation. While that might seem like a classic example of Lib Dem middle-of-the-roadery, that perhaps suggests that minds are changed when confronted with the reality that the policy is impossible to implement fairly within any reasonable timescale.

Conservative supporters of the policy will now presumably dismiss this week’s motion of ‘those people from Glasgow’ as easily as they rejected last week’s preliminary findings of ‘that woman from Brazil’ Raquel Rolnik. A motion at the Lib Dem conference is unlikely to worry IDS too much but the pressure is still growing at a political level.

Attention now turns to next week’s Labour conference in Brighton. Labour has been performing contortions over the issue for several weeks. Some reports confidently predict that Ed Miliband will commit to scrapping the bedroom tax in his conference speech but in others party sources are playing down a suggestion from Scottish welfare spokesperson Jackie Baillie over the weekend that we can ‘expect an announcement relatively soon’.

Away from politics, the cracks are now appearing in the legal system. Tenants have now been successful in four out of five First Tier Tribunal cases in Fife. These cover cases where rooms were held to be too small to count as a bedroom and cases where there is a ‘well established alternative’ use which means they are not a bedroom. Joe Halewood has chronicled the detail and the implications extensively on his blog and in his latest post argues that the decisions could be even better news for landlords and councils than for tenants. Paul Lewis also has more details on his blog.

Rulings by First Tier Tribunals are not legally binding on those elsewhere. However, they seem consistent with the QC’s opinion obtained by Glasgow Advice Agency that I blogged about in February. As Giles Peaker comments at Nearly Legal, it’s hard to see how other tribunals could not take it on themselves ‘to decide what isn’t a bedroom, given the absence of any definition in law’. He also highlights the ‘high-risk problems’ facing the DWP as it considers fresh guidance in the light of the rulings.

Away from politics and the law, the effects of the bedroom tax continue to play out in unpredictable ways. In the last few days, the Daily Record has reported on tenants in Glasgow banned from downsizing until they pay off their arrears and The Sentinel has covered rising voids in Stoke as tenants are forced into smaller and more expensive private rented homes As columns like this one by Simon Faulkner in the Grimsby Telegraph and this brilliant one by Ian Bell in The Herald show, the implications and contradictions of the policy are now well understood in the mainstream media.

If the government thought that the furore over the bedroom tax would start to die down once it was implemented in April, or after a quiet summer, it will clearly have to think again. It will take more than a fresh coat of paint or a new strip of wallpaper to cover up those cracks in the bedroom ceiling.