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Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Fighting the bedroom tax can’t pay won’t pay!

There are so many cuts we could and should be fighting but we simply cannot spread ourselves in so many directions as a small revolutionary party in the socialist party so focusing in Harlow anyway on the so called Bedroom tax will fit in with the local council tax benefit cuts and a wider campaign involving local communities allowing us to build links with different campaigns. It is not clear whether the so-called “Bedroom Tax” which comes in this spring is intended to revive the practice of taking in lodgers. It applies only to tenants of councils and housing associations, who will find their housing benefit cut by an average of £14 a week if they leave a bedroom unoccupied for more than thirteen weeks. We are told that the aim of the measure is “to make better use of social housing”, either by persuading people to exchange their home for a smaller one or, presumably, by renting out their spare room. The “under-occupancy penalty” is forecast to save the taxpayer £480 million a year; housing benefit costs £20 billion. There are so many grey areas here I mean what if you have a son or daughter who lives with you goes off to university how will that work as and when they come back ? If you take in a lodger is that not sub letting? How do they even plan on collecting this will they snoop on your homes day in day out seeing who comes in and out of the house? If your house is what they decide under occupied moving to a smaller property isn’t always easy with the lack of affordable housing in this country as it is. Yet it’s a fairly nasty measure for other reasons too. Many others among the 600,000 people affected must be middle-aged couples whose children have left the parental home, but who are happy to have a spare room to accommodate children or grandchildren on occasional visits. Others are old people who will now feel they have to move to a smaller house simply because they have one spare room in the property they have occupied for years. And what counts as a spare room anyway? It probably requires very little ingenuity to find another use for an unoccupied bedroom. Put a TV set into it and explain to the snooper that your wife (or alternatively husband) likes to watch television and you don’t. Information on the tax from the National Housing Federation says: Welfare reforms will cut the amount of benefit that people can get if they are deemed to have a spare bedroom in their council or housing association home. This measure will apply from April 2013 to tenants of working age. The power to do this is contained in the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and is commonly referred to as the bedroom tax, size criteria or under-occupation penalty. What do the changes mean? The size criteria in the social rented sector will restrict housing benefit to allow for one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household, with the following exceptions: • Children under 16 of same gender expected to share • Children under 10 expected to share regardless of gender • Disabled tenant or partner who needs nonresident overnight carer will be allowed an extra bedroom Who will be affected? All claimants who are deemed to have at least one spare bedroom will be affected. This includes: • Separated parents who share the care of their children and who may have been allocated an extra bedroom to reflect this. Benefit rules mean that there must be a designated ‘main carer’ for children (who receives the extra benefit) • Couples who use their ‘spare’ bedroom when recovering from an illness or operation • Foster carers because foster children are not counted as part of the household for benefit purposes • Parents whose children visit but are not part of the household • Families with disabled children • Disabled people including people living in adapted or specially designed properties. How much will people lose? The cut will be a fixed percentage of the Housing Benefit eligible rent. The Government has said that this will be set at 14% for one extra bedroom and 25% for two or more extra bedrooms. The Government’s impact assessment shows that those affected will lose an average of £14 a week. Housing association tenants are expected to lose £16 a week on average. How many people will see their benefit cut? The proposal will affect an estimated 660,000 working-age social tenants – 31% of existing working-age housing benefits claimants in the social sector. The majority of these people have only one extra bedroom. Need more detail on how the bedroom tax will be applied? Read the regulations on the social sector size criteria or bedroom tax. Do the regulations define a bedroom? No. The Government’s view is that it is for landlords to specify the size of the property and this ought to match what is on any tenancy agreement and reflect the level of rent charged. The bedroom tax will not take account of whether a room is a single or a double bedroom. A room either is a bedroom or is not a bedroom. How will the bedroom tax operate under Universal Credit? There are some differences between how the bedroom tax will operate under housing benefit (from April 2013) and under Universal Credit when it is introduced. These differences are summarised in the table below. From April 2013 Under Universal Credit Those over State Pension Credit age will not be affected, including where one member of a couple is over. Mixed age couples - both will need to be over pension age to not be affected by the bedroom tax. Those where one is already in receipt of Pension Credit will however be protected. Non-dependant deductions (NDD): six separate rates varying by income and under 25s on benefit are exempt. One, flat-rate Housing Cost Contribution (HCC). All under 21s are exempt from HCC. Non-dependants: couples get one room between them. They pay the NDD unless both are exempt. Each adult non-dependent gets a room. Each pays the HCC unless exempt. Lodgers get a room but income is taken into account and deducted pound for pound from benefit apart from first £20. No room allowance but any income from lodgers is disregarded. In joint tenancy cases the bedroom tax can still apply. Bedroom tax not applied in joint- tenancy cases. Protection on death for up to 52 weeks. Benefits run-on for 3 months. 13 week protection where the tenant could previously afford the rent and Housing Benefit has not been claimed in the last 52 weeks. Size criteria apply immediately. What about lodgers? From April 2013 lodgers will count as occupying a room under the size criteria rules. Any income from a lodger will be taken into account and deducted pound for pound from benefit apart from the first £20. This reverses under Universal Credit – lodgers will not be counted as occupying a room and the size criteria reduction will apply, but any income from lodgers will be fully disregarded and will not impact on the amount of a claimant’s Universal Credit award. DWP have produced a factsheet on things to consider when renting out a room. Taking in a lodger will also have an impact on many home contents insurance policies, potentially invalidating a policy or raising the premiums. What about students studying away from home? Households where there is a room kept for a student studying away from home will not be deemed to be under-occupying if the student is away for less than 52 weeks (under housing benefit) or 6 months (under Universal Credit). Under housing benefit rules students are exempt from non-dependant deductions, however full-time students will not be exempt from the Housing Cost Contribution (HCC) which replaces non-dependent deductions under Universal Credit. All young people under 21 are exempt from the HCC, but students over 21 will face a contribution in the region of £15 per week. Are pre-1989 tenancies exempt from the bedroom tax? No. It seems so vague the details and how the local councils will collect this tax there could be so many anomalies thrown up. In a letter sent to a Harlow resident we read that the council are suggesting an occupant thinks about finding a job if they did not have one, how do they know they didn’t? Also ask them to consider taking a lodger? In affect telling people how to live their lives, Nanny state much? So in Harlow and I’m sure elsewhere we will be fighting this cruel unnecessary cut raising awareness with a petition and local public meetings and leaflets etc. This is cruel and unfair when the rich have mansions with hundreds of empty rooms we are forced into tiny rabbit hutch’s of homes and to use all possible space and get charged if we don’t. Since the con-dem government ruled out any form of a mansion tax this seems so clear now it’s a attack on the poorest in society and those who are seeing their pay cut, jobs cut, and austerity forced on them even further. So we stand by the principle can’t pay won’t pay! Keep in touch if you wish to find out more about our campaign on this.

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