It’s about time Westminster woke up to the Bedroom Tax

10:51 am - February 20th 2013

by Richard Exell    

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It’s good that the politicians have picked up on the Bedroom Tax.

In April – less than two months away – tenants in the social rented sector (essentially, Council or Housing Association) will face an extra restriction on the amount of Housing Benefit they can get. If they are deemed to have a ‘spare’ bedroom their HB will be cut by 14 per cent, 25 per cent if they are deemed to have two spare rooms, pensioners are excluded from this cut but other vulnerable groups are not and lone parents and disabled people will be very hard hit.

The government’s own Equality Impact Assessment, published last summer, calculated that 660,000 households will be affected, 31 per cent of all working age HB claimants living in the social rented sector; on average, they will lose £14 a week (one hundred thousand will lose more than £20 a week).

Joe Halewood has pointed out that these figures may be an under-estimate; he also notes that the average household has 2.4 people, so a good working figure for the number of people who will lose out is 1.6 million.

Who will lose out?
The government’s figures show that most of those who lose out will be people without children living with them, but 150,000 will be lone parents – 21 per cent of working age lone parents in socially rented housing will lose out.

The other big group of vulnerable people who are disproportionately likely to to lose out will be disabled people (using the Disability Discrimination Act definition of disability): disabled people make up 56 per cent of all working age social rented sector tenants but 63 per cent of those who will lose out. 420,000 disabled people will have their HB cut.

There will be some protection for disabled people: an extra bedroom for a disabled adult who needs a non-resident overnight carer will not attract the bedroom tax, but people with impairments that stop couples or children from sharing a room or who need an extra room for equipment may be affected. Many of the people affected will have gone to immense trouble to get rooms (or the whole property) adapted, often spending thousands of their own savings.

There is an increase in the Discretionary Housing Fund to mitigate this, but it is limited to one year, is limited to £30 million and is also expected to help foster carers who face this cut. Read this excellent post on the We Are Spartacus website for more information about how disabled people will be especially hard hit by this cut.

It is good that politicians have taken up this issue. It has forced the government onto the defensive and local news websites are beginning to report examples of the sort of people who will be hit by this cut:

  • The couple who may lose the bedroom that has become a ‘shrine’ to their son who died of cancer;
  • The couple who will lose the adjustments that help them cope with arthritis;
  • The mother who will lose HB because her son is serving in the army in Afghanistan;
  • The couple who can’t find a smaller property to move into (and the 4,700 families in Hull who will be chasing 73 smaller properties);
  • The woman who can’t take in a lodger because the bedrooms are simply too small for her daughters to share;
  • The carer who can’t share the special mattress for his wife’s spina bifida and so has to sleep in a separate room.

If you’re angry about this there are some things you can do. If you’re on Facebook, there’s a Facebook group:, you can ask your MP to read We Are Spartacus’s Parliamentary briefing and there’s a Scrap Spare Bedroom Tax page on the Labour Party’s Campaign Engine Room site. I’ll add to this post as I learn about other initiatives.

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About the author
Richard is an regular contributor. He is the TUC’s Senior Policy Officer covering social security, tax credits and labour market issues.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Fight the cuts

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Reader comments

You mention that pensioners will be exempt from this bedroom tax. That is not correct, if you have a look at the blogger SPeye you will find that there is a very comprehensive explanation of what and who it will affect. I predict that once this tax starts, then public disorder will follow; just like the poll tax riots.

(I give this 8 minutes before a tory comes on to point out this isn’t technically a tax, and thus derails the real point of the thread which is that this policy is disastrous)

You missed out other examples of people penalised:

1. The parents of children who keep a room for them when they go to university (so much for tories wanting to promote aspiration…)
2. Foster parents who keep a spare room in case an emergency placement is needed.

IDS spent a decade moaning that the welfare system created disincentives to work. Yet every single reform his govt has done has increased the disincentive to work. Stupidest minister ever.

3. Richard Carey

@ 2 Planeshift,

“(I give this 8 minutes before a tory comes on to point out this isn’t technically a tax, and thus derails the real point of the thread which is that this policy is disastrous)”

They don’t need to now – you’ve just done it!

4. Richard Carey

An elderly neighbour of mine, who lives in a council flat was recently lying in a hospital bed, when some people from the council came round to her (in the hospital!) to pester her to move out of her flat as it’s got spare rooms. That’s the socialist republic of Lewisham for you.

“the council came round to her (in the hospital!) to pester her to move out of her flat as it’s got spare rooms”

Yep totally wrong. But if you dropped the word ‘elderly’ from the first sentance it will still be morally repugnant and wrong, and will be happening on a vast scale come april.


Snide comments aside, it isn’t ‘a tax’ though, is it? So why is the piece entitled that?

How stupid does the Labour Party think people are? This is akin the notion that the government is, ‘writing cheques for millionaires’. This kind of language demonstrates an unerring contempt for the intelligence of the electorate. Indeed, the richest people in the country are now paying more in taxes than at any time under the Blair-Brown governments.

The current system is deeply unfair to some people in social housing. You recognise this, of course. You know that through the inadequacy (and quirks) of the welfare system, some people are receiving larger subsidised housing than others who need it more. I’m personally against the proposed reform for other reasons.

“So why is the piece entitled that? ”

because for better or worse, the policy has been called the bedroom tax for some time now, even being used in the right wing press. ‘reduction in benefit for under-occupancy in social housing’ doesn’t quite have the same gist.

Like it or not, framing is half the battle in any political campaign. Calling it a tax probably adds about 10% to the numbers opposing it. The tories managed something similar by calling proposals for paying for social care in the last government a ‘death tax’.

Hmm….together we earn around £40K – £70K a year and we can’t afford a property with a spare room. Those whohave property and accumulated assets can afford to feel mushy about people being entitled to spare rooms for sons in the Army, shrines for loved ones etc. I have no idea why someone of working age in the army should have a spare room paid for by the taxpayer (i.e. me) at their parents house….they can pay for their own accomodation like the rest of us, and I despise the way this has been used to stir sympathy in patriots. Soldiers are technically paid state killers, whether in protection or in offense, they get a wage for doing a job. They are not being soldiers altruistically, we pay them a wage that they accept, other than that financially we owe them nothing more than anyone else in society. If we want to expand the employment contract to include a free room for relatives, fine, but that’s not part of the deal.

Where the disabled are concerned, where an extra room is required and there is a real reason for this, then of course this should be provided.

For those separated parents who are unemployed and have the kids from time to time, if they are not permanent residents with them, it’s tough sh*t I am afraid. A working person on a low wage can’t afford a 2 bed flat, how on earth should this person be taxed to pay for an unemployed person to have that luxury? Again, if disabled, no option to achieve that via work, therefore state provides.

A comment above mentioned children going to university, and rooms being kept for their return – cannot disagree more. Children do not go to university, adults do. The housing need isn’t currently assessed on adult children receiving free rooms. This room no doubt would be sub letted while the children are gone, probably without paying tax on that income either.

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