Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Nightmare of Bedroom Tax; as the Government's "Bedroom Tax" Looms Nearer, PAUL TINNION - Chairman of a Housing Association in Chester-le-Street - Argues the Move Is Grossly Unfair

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Nightmare of Bedroom Tax; as the Government's "Bedroom Tax" Looms Nearer, PAUL TINNION - Chairman of a Housing Association in Chester-le-Street - Argues the Move Is Grossly Unfair

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL TINNION

AFEW days ago, my housing association held its annual tenants' conference at Beamish Hall. As ever, we had a good turnout of our generally very supportive tenants.

One session on welfare reform gave rise to an audible and sudden intake of breath such as I have rarely heard before. Tenants were hearing about the looming bedroom tax.

As everyone should know by now, the greatest burden of reducing the deficit is falling on welfare benefits. Benefit cuts are, we're told, popular, especially with those who have never received them and never expect to. Child benefit and the state pension don't count as benefits in this context, of course.

One poll found most people thought unemployment benefit was too high, but also found that nobody who thought so had the faintest idea of how high it was. (Very low, in fact, at pounds 71).

But as the chairman of a housing association, it's the bedroom tax which concerns me most.

From April, those of working age in the North East claiming housing benefit, whether in low-paid employment or out of work, will lose an average of pounds 10 per week for one spare bedroom, and pounds 16 for two.

A single person or a couple will be entitled to one bedroom. Children under 16 of the same sex will be expected to share. Those of different sex under 10 will be expected to share. Families enjoying the luxury of an extra bedroom will pay substantially more rent. This will be irrespective of whether suitable smaller accommodation is available or not.

Organisations such as my housing association simply do not have the smaller homes available to accommodate the many tenants affected. And indeed Government projections show that they know this all too well. Government spokesmen say they expect few to have to move. They expect many of those affected to find the money somehow. So families which, by any standards, are not well off will find themselves considerably poorer.

It's all about saving money, not using the housing stock better. The elderly widow in her three-bedroom house is unaffected.

We are told that the changes simply bring social renting into line with the private sector, as though unfairness necessarily has to be extended to everyone.

Already we are hearing of new rented housing being switched from three bedrooms to two. Does that really make sense in the long term?

The Government generally fails even to engage in any informed debate. Vague references are made to families being able to downsize into private renting, which would actually cost the Government more, as private rents are generally higher.

Alternatively, benefits minister Lord Freud says that many tenants are preparing to take in lodgers. It seems he meets very different tenants to those I meet. …

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