‘Bedroom Tax’: Lib Dem Andrew George’s Affordable Homes Bill wins key Commons vote backed by Lib Dem / Labour MPs

andrew georgeA year ago Lib Dem members voted at the party’s conference for an urgent review of the impact of what’s termed by critics the ‘Bedroom Tax’. Two months ago Danny Alexander announced he’d be recommending a major U-turn on the policy. And this afternoon, as the BBC reports, Lib Dem MPs teamed up with Labour to vote through reforms which mean that tenants who cannot be found a smaller home will be exempt from the cuts, as well as disabled people who need a spare bedroom or who have adapted homes:

Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs have joined forces to defeat Conservatives in a Commons vote to partly overturn housing benefit changes. MPs backed the Affordable Homes Bill at second reading by 306 votes to 231.

Lib Dem MP Andrew George’s private member’s bill will now move to detailed scrutiny at the committee stage. The issue has split the coalition, with Lib Dem and Tory MPs and ministers voting along party lines. The BBC’s parliamentary correspondent Mark D’Arcy said there was now a “fighting chance” the bill would become law.

All but three Liberal Democrat MPs backed the bill. Nick Clegg, who is at the Nato summit in Wales, did not take part in the vote.

Here’s what Lib Dem chief secretary to the treasury Danny Alexander had to say afterwards:

“Today’s vote was an important step in reforming spare room subsidy policy to make sure we protect the most vulnerable. It is absolutely right we ensure scarce housing is used as efficiently as possible and private and social sector tenants are treated fairly and equally.”

The party has issued the following Q&A explaining the reasons for its MPs’ about-turn:

Q&A

Why are you doing this now?

We have been monitoring the introduction of the policy carefully. The results of the interim evaluation have now been published and they show some concerning findings such as that 57% of claimants reported cutting back on household essentials. We have protected the vulnerable so far but we now want to reform the policy to protect those people for the long term.

Why haven’t you implemented these changes in government?

We have protected vulnerable groups by providing hard cash for hard cases – £180m in Discretionary Housing Payments last year – not all of which has been spent by councils. We have been monitoring the introduction of the policy carefully and have recently received the interim results of the initial evaluation of the policy. These show that the policy has had an impact on disabled people who need a spare bedroom and we want to ensure that these people are exempted. We also want to ensure that those who have tried to downsize but have not been able to are not penalised. We will make the case to our coalition partners that the policy needs to be reformed.

The Tories don’t agree with you do they?

We will continue to make the case to our coalition partners that the policy needs to be reformed. If we do not reach agreement in this parliament we will commit to these reforms in our manifesto.

What about other groups who are affected (e.g. parents who don’t live with their children but have them to visit regularly)

There would still be a (more limited) pot of Discretionary Housing Payments available for hard cash to cover hard cases. It is already the case, however, that private sector tenants have to pay for a spare bedroom in this circumstance.

Not all disabled people will be covered by your policy?

We are exempting those disabled people who need a spare bedroom or those who live in specially adapted properties. Not all disabled people will need a spare bedroom. We will consult on the detailed guidance.

What about all the other housing benefit reforms? This change doesn’t go far enough.

Between 2000 and 2010 expenditure on Housing Benefit grew by around 50% in real terms. This is clearly unsustainable, particularly at a time when we need to reduce the deficit and build a stronger economy. That is why we have made reforms to the housing benefit system, but it is also why we are working to build more affordable homes. There are also still Discretionary Housing Payments available for vulnerable people.

You are penalising housing associations who can’t build more houses. That isn’t fair, and will mean that they have less funding to build more houses in future.

We recognise it is not fair for people to have a reduction in their housing benefit if they have tried to downsize but have not been offered an alternative property. We believe there needs to be a small incentive on housing associations and local authorities to offer people reasonable alternative accommodation, including encourage people to downsize in order to free up homes for those on housing waiting lists or those living in overcrowded accommodation. This will also be an incentive to look at ways some local authorities have tackled the problem. This includes opportunities to convert larger properties or to encourage house swaps or ‘rent a room’ schemes, which help to prevent homelessness, and encourage people to think about options for getting extra income.

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28 Comments

  • The party website is the most horrifically cynical thing I’ve ever seen the Lib Dems do.

  • “Why are you doing this now?
    We have been monitoring the introduction of the policy carefully.”

    As if the blatant unfairness of the policy hadn’t been obvious from the day it was proposed – and as if that hadn’t been pointed out to the party leadership right from the word go.

  • cllr Nick Cotter 5th Sep '14 - 10:36pm

    Whilst I agree 100% with what has been “achieved” today – Why on Earth did the Lib Dem MP’s vote this wretched, ill conceived Bill through in the first place ?? Crazy, Crazy, Crazy ??? !!!

    I am proud to say that my Dad: Lord Brian Cotter, Lib Dem Peer, and former MP for Weston-Super-Mare, as did many of his fellow Lib Dem Peers voted against this dreadful, illiberal housing “policy”…………. Abolition of the House of Lords Lib Dem party policy ………… Well let’s see our MP’s step up to the plate first then ?? !!

    Cllr Nick Cotter (now Independent ) Bicester, Oxon.

  • Andrew Suffield 6th Sep '14 - 1:43am

    This comment thread just goes to show that even when you give people exactly what they asked for, they still aren’t happy. Why, then, should people bother listening to what you ask for?

  • stuart moran 6th Sep '14 - 5:22am

    Andrew Suffield

    The people are giving are grudging thumbs up but this is not yet be in place, only goes part of the way and remember that all the arguments being made were made at the time of the original bill which these same MPs (apart from some) voted for. What has cleared their ears since then?

    If we were being cynical then we would say it is part of the manoeuvring prior to an election……

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 6th Sep '14 - 7:48am

    This bill is too little too late and it will not restore the lives or the homes of those whose living conditions have been made a misery by a cruel and vindictive policy. I hope that Labour is still committed to repealing the whole of the Bedroom Tax.

  • Bill le Breton 6th Sep '14 - 7:50am

    It is never the wrong time to do the right thing and Andrew George should be congratulated and thanked.

    But you have to wonder what kind of Liberal Democrat politicians and advisers ever thought this measure was worth supporting. Any of our councillors past or present could have told these small minded b*ffoons that people in the real world sometimes badly needed that extra room (eg because of chronic ill-health or to keep children close to both their separated parents) and that anyway there just weren’t enough homes with fewer nedrooms to which the rest could transfer.

    Clearly the Conservatives knew that it communicated well with their councillors, activists and supporters. How did our representatives come to think it would go down with ours?

    It shows both a low level of political skill and technical awareness of the issue, plus a set of values which I find utterly illiberal.

  • I read the original legislation that introduced the bedroom tax and analysed what I thought the effects would be. However, one person’s opinion is simply not to be taken as fact so I contacted experts in this field who were on my local radio station (Radio Merseyside) on a lunchtime phone-in back in 2012. The fact that originally there was no exemption for foster parents indicated to me that this was a sloppy and ill-thought out piece of work that nobody who had any conception of the lives of ordinary people would even look at.

    (Originally I assumed it was one of those civil servant ‘We’ll give the ministers this because it is so terrible that they’ll reject it and come round to something sensible’ pieces of work. I was amazed when Lib Dem ministers championed it).

    The experts on the phone-in confirmed my fears, many of which have come to pass. Not only has this legislation damaged the lives of countless families it has not even achieved its supposed aims of saving money or encouraging people to move to smaller properties.

    It always was a rotten policy-Social control of the poor masquerading as a money saving exercise. The fact that Liberal Democrat ministers and many Lib Dem MPs backed this measure is to their eternal shame. The rot at the heart of this policy was blindingly obvious from the very beginning and that it has taken over 2 years for this party to wake up to that fact is appalling. On his twitter feed Vince Cable refers to the ‘Tories bedroom tax’-A policy he and his fellow ministers not only voted for once but over and over again since 2012. This is hypocrisy of the highest order.

  • David wilkinson 6th Sep '14 - 8:30am

    Well done to Andrew George on his bill at least it’s a start on getting rid of this stupid piece of legislation. The point made by Bill about the failure of our MP’s not to even talk to our councillors about it, shows the gulf between MP’s and the grassroots of the party.

    I have been a councillor for 30 years and an Executive Member for Housing in the past and I was and still am angry at the failure of most of our MP’s to blindly vote of this piece of Tory bile in attacking those who live in social housing.

  • Andrew Suffield
    This First step towards a private members bill becoming law holds out some hope of change to the hated bedroom tax.
    But it is a long, long way from what you describe as — “giving people exactly what they asked for”.

    Exactly what people asked for was not to have this hated bedroom tax in the first place or to get rid of it as soon as possible.
    You probably know this and maybe now regret posting a comment which opens up old wounds and pours in salt. Were you really just trying to wind people up? I hope not.

    Nick Cotter, stuart moran, Caractatus, Bill le Breton, and Andy Birss have already said things whichnInmight have said. Often better than I would have phrased it myself because this bedroom tax makes me so angry inside and so disappointed about what our party has become under the dire lack of Loberal political leadership over the last eight years.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 6th Sep '14 - 8:48am

    @Andy Birss
    I am in accord with all your comments. Surely the corollary of your final paragraph is that the Lib Dem MInisters who voted for the Bedroom Tax should apologise and resign and that the Liberal Democrat Party at its forthcoming conference should vote to secede from its disastrous coalition?

  • Tony Dawson 6th Sep '14 - 9:20am

    Andrew George is to be congratulated for his consistency in voting against ludicrous ideas, poorly-thought-through, emanating officially from ‘the Coalition'(sic) but, in reality , the ideas of a handful of teenage Tory policy wonks not put to any serious scrutiny before being pushed through. I include in these the pathetic, useless and wasteful NHS ‘deforms’ , many of Gove’s grossly wasteful education measures and in particular the details of operation of both ATOS and the sanctioning regime within the DWP. Pickles’ obsession with weekly bin collections must not be forgotten either.

    What cannot be escaped is that none of these measures would have been voted through by any free vote of the House of Commons. The Liberal Democrat parliamentary leadership have not had a clue, from the very start , of how to prevent things happening which were never part of the Coalition Agreement. They never sought advice from the senior Lib Dem councillors with decades of experience of Coalition in local government, they blundered on ahead, playing at government while leaving their Party stranded, high and dry, being used as an artillery target by councillors of the Labour Party.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 6th Sep '14 - 9:24am

    @ Bill le Bretton
    I do congratulate Andrew George for his Bill. More importantly I congratulate him for his consistent, principled opposition to the Bedroom Tax and for previously voting with Labour against it. It is George’s fellow Lib Dem MPs who in their lust for power at any price have made his admirable measure too little too late!

  • Roger Roberts 6th Sep '14 - 10:31am

    Delighted at Andrew George’s victory on the Bedroom Tax yesterday. Now it’s our duty to repeat this victory in the House of Lords ! Thanks to Andrew it is a Lib Dem led success. Others (Labour already) will try to claim the credit . Admit our mistakes and move ahead. Have Labour and Co never repented of mistaken decisions – did anyone mention past moves to withdraw from Europe or invade Iraq ?

  • John Tilley trots out the usual phrase ‘the hated bedroom tax’ on the assumption that everyone agrees with him and in my experience they don’t. The general public are pretty confused not least because some politicians and political commentators have to sought to cloud the issue by referring to something as a tax which clearly isn’t a tax.

    Once explained many people support the principle of the benefit changes in that tenants in the public sector should be treated in the same way as those in the private sector when it comes to housing benefit. I haven’t found anyone yet who thinks that, other than temporarily, someone on housing support should enjoy the benefit of a property they themselves couldn’t afford when working.

    I sometimes wonder what sort of cotton wool, feather bedded lives some of the commentators on this site have led. Often in life things go wrong or don’t go to plan so you make changes as you go along and you eventually get to where you want to be. So what Andrew George is trying to do is quite right.

    I paid a lot of business and personal tax over the years and I have been happy to do so to help provide the public services expected in a civilised society, even though many public sector workers have ended up with far better pension arrangements then I have! But having created that private wealth on which the government was able to raise taxes I don’t accept that welfare support should be a free for all.

  • Andrew Suffield 6th Sep '14 - 2:49pm

    John Tilley trots out the usual phrase ‘the hated bedroom tax’ on the assumption that everyone agrees with him and in my experience they don’t.

    Agreed; the “anti-bedroom-tax” movement is nothing more than the rabid endorsement of the “haves” (people who are in oversized council homes with the massive right-to-buy windfall in their future) over the “have nots” (people who are homeless and really need to move into that “spare bedroom”). The implementation was flawed, as government legislation always is, and at the time people listed a litany of every flaw they could imagine, and then later on when one or two of those things happen they claim to have shown some insight with their shotgun opposition. Anybody who is still saying some form of “I don’t know why our ministers are voting for Tory policies, it’s insane” after four years of coalition is either profoundly ignorant or profoundly dishonest. I consider this kind of behaviour to be the biggest disgrace in UK politics, as it’s not even trying to make the world a better place, it’s just trying to score personal points at the expense of everybody else. Those people are the kind I got into politics to fight against.

    Yes, if we didn’t have to deal with the Tories then we could probably have written a much better bill the first time around – it’s their damn policy after all, and I know I’d have taken a completely different approach if I was emperor of the world. But you know what? We do have to deal with the Tories, because people voted for them – in fact, their ideas have proven more popular than ours! We have to make the best legislation we can in the world that exists, not the world we’d like to have, and we haven’t convinced enough people that our ideas would be better, and the kind of behaviour that we’re seeing here is a part of the reason.

  • AC Trussell 6th Sep '14 - 4:27pm

    I agree with Andrew Suffield. But I’m not sure that their(Tories) ideas are so popular?
    I doubt if 10% of the “people” know what the Lib/Dems have done.
    Also, I could see – instantly, that the “spare room subsidy!” was very unfair. Was it part of a -give and take- deal; perhaps for school meals? If not ; someone must explain to us why they voted for it!

    I like the (non-bias) way the BBC has reported on it.
    Once it was never mentioned that it was a Li/Dem that proposed the Bill.
    Later I heard that “The Lib/Dems have joined the Labour Party in voting against the Government–subtle in’t it?

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 6th Sep '14 - 5:44pm

    @Andrew Suffield
    “the “anti-bedroom-tax” movement is nothing more than the rabid endorsement of the “haves” (people who are in oversized council homes with the massive right-to-buy windfall in their future) over the “have nots” (people who are homeless and really need to move into that “spare bedroom”).”

    A c ompletely disingenuous and distorted description of the policy. If the Coalition really cared about homelessness it would have built thousands of council homes (it’s had nearly five years to do so) instead of forcing people out of homes whom many have lived in all of their lives and could never have afforded to purchase via “Right to Buy” because they were on benefits. That’s why they were being victimised by the Coalition in the first place. People who aren’t on benefits and have spare bedrooms can keep them. An appalling example of equals being treated unequally. Unless, like the Tories and the Lib Dems you think that people on benefits shouldn’t be treated equally. The hated bedroom tax (yes, hated, everyone I speak to hates it, ) is responsible , amongst many other unjust policies, for the Lib Dems’ consistently parlous position in the polls. Hence the alacrity with which they have voted for Andrew George’s principled bill. They think it will save their deposits at the next general Election. Fat chance! I suggest that in time this hated tax will become as mythologised and deprecated as the Tories’ famous and equally unjust 1930s “Means Test” Much more accurate is Andy Birss ‘ description of the Bedroom Tax (see above) “It always was a rotten policy – Social control of the poor masquerading as a money saving exercise. ” As for it being a replication of Labour’s measure in the private sector this is nonsense because Labour’s measure was never retrospective and only applied to new private tenants: consequently existing private tenants weren’t forced out of their homes. I suggest that those who wish to see why Labour’s measure was nothing like the Coalition’s hated Bedroom tax should follow this link: http://notpaying.tumblr.com/post/55537295011/how-the-bedroom-tax-differs-from-the-local-housing

  • If Andrew Suffield really thinks that this is about ‘the rapid endorsement of the haves’ then I feel sorry for him. Most of the people around here (Merseyside) who have been hit by this measure don’t intend to buy their homes. They want to stay near relatives and friends in communities they they have built up over the years. Not only is this good for society (I thought Lib Dems were in favour of that) it saves money in that cooperation between friends and neighours reduces the burden on the state to provide services.

    I too want’ to make the world a better place’ but simply to denigrate those you disagree with does not do that. The bedroom tax fails on virtually every measure it was meant to bring in. Few people have moved, larger houses have been left empty since family size has reduced over the past decades and the supposed savings seem to be little more than Treasury inventions.

    The bedroom tax was rotten from the very start-No exemptions for those fostering should have been a clue that it had been drafted in haste and without compassion for those affected. The fact that bedroom tax was not simply passed by Lib Dem ministers but actively endorsed by some cannot and should not be simply washed away by saying ‘We had to deal with the Tories’.

  • stuart moran 6th Sep '14 - 6:48pm

    jedibefftrix

    If you support this policy then I will not vilify you for it – just to let you know that I think it is a contemptuous policy by a contemptible Government.

    You said on a previous thread that you didn’t necessarily disagree with the bill put forward yesterday and I would hope that you do not think it should be retrospective either? I fail to see then what remains of this policy to support.

    If you don’t feel that then it says more about you than it does the policy and explains why the Tory and LD parties no longer have a presence in many urban areas

    If you are just saying that social housing should in future consider the size of the family and their requirements then that does not necessarily seem unreasonable – but that is not the policy as it stands and so should be thrown in the bin.

    If you feel so strongly then I hope you would also support a review of ‘right to buy’, the implementation of which can explain some of these problems

  • David Allen 6th Sep '14 - 7:45pm

    Well done Andrew George, but I read the “Guardian” comment that:

    “George’s bill is unlikely to make it to the statute book, as private members’ legislation often struggles to gain enough time to fulfil all the required stages without government backing”

    http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/sep/05/bedroom-tax-bill-splits-coalition-second-reading

    So we haven’t actually “given people what they asked for” yet.

  • Huzzah, some people in your party have finally developed a vague spine, enough to vote against what the PM tells Nick to make everyone vote for. Of course had this kind of thing occurred when we weren’t in election season, it may have carried more weight with all those voters that you have lost. Or you could have not all voted in favour of the bill in the first place, that also would have helped.

    I’m guessing we shall see a lot of this kind of “rebellion” over the next 6 months, all of it against things the Lib Dems voted in favour of originally, all of it on private members bills that can be knocked down after the vote, and all of it with prominent party members sort of giving their approval in a very timid way, but not enough to upset the current cabinet.

    If you’d had a spine during the many previous opportunities, you’d be polling around 25% now at least. But you didn’t , and so you aren’t.

  • Helen Dudden 7th Sep '14 - 9:14am

    Those who have paid should be refunded asap.

    In Bath, there are so many student homes being built, yet those like me, pensioners, are being forced to move from their families to be housed. I have no one if I am ill, only one small shop from the Warden if needed. A 20 minute journey that can take up to an hour because of the problems with the traffic and the road system.

    That is how the cookie crumbles, in the famous city of Bath.

  • Bill le Breton 7th Sep '14 - 9:17am

    David Allen, Mark Darcy the BBC correspondent (and former SDP News editor) believes there is a good chance of the Bill gaining sufficient time to become law, because further down the list of PM Bills is one on the EU referendum. By giving plenty of time to Bills being considered earlier the Conservatives will be able to claim that Labour has deliberately prevented the Referendum Bill from being considered.

    All good fun, it would seem.

  • Simon F
    It is not a question of spine or lack of back bone. Just as other political parties are dominated by a class of people in the Westminster Bubble so over the last 8 years for whatever reason the Liberal Democrats became a captive of this class of people. The strong base in communities and local councils has during that 8 year period has been all but destroyed. So that when something like the hated bedroom tax came along the power structure of the party was totally out of balance.

    This is not macho stuff about spine or back bone. I have some sympathy for some ofthe things you say but I refer you to an earlier comment for a more accurate assessment of what has happened —
    Bill le Breton 6th Sep ’14 – 7:50am
    It is never the wrong time to do the right thing and Andrew George should be congratulated and thanked.

    But you have to wonder what kind of Liberal Democrat politicians and advisers ever thought this measure was worth supporting. Any of our councillors past or present could have told these small minded b*ffoons that people in the real world sometimes badly needed that extra room (eg because of chronic ill-health or to keep children close to both their separated parents) and that anyway there just weren’t enough homes with fewer nedrooms to which the rest could transfer.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 20th Sep '14 - 3:27pm

    The ‘Bedroom Tax’ in my opinion is illiberal, discriminatory, and an abomination that needs to be completely got rid off, and not tinkered with. It is simple, ‘silk purses’ cannot be made from ‘pigs ears’ no matter covering they are given.

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