Opinion: Don’t close spare room subsidy loophole – just yet

In January, it was revealed that there was a loophole in the Government’s welfare reforms. The loophole relates to those people claiming Housing Benefit whilst in the same property for at least the past 17 years.

The government have indicated they will reverse this loophole as soon as possible. Reports suggest legislation will be brought forward in March.

I would call on the government to hold on closing this loophole until the independent review, ordered by Nick Clegg, has reported back on the implications of the spare bedroom subsidy.

I base this on my own experiences. Although I lost my seat in May last year, I have continued to represent a lady we shall call Ada. Although we have applied for Discretionary Housing Allowance from the local authority, her circumstances changed when she received back pay of benefits which were incorrectly stopped. This represented a period of escalating debt as she was left with only the income from a small pension to live on for almost a year. As a result her discretionary housing allowance application was rejected because of her change of circumstances.

We have now provided the required declaration that she has lived in the same property for over 17 years to the local authority under the provisions of this loophole. It would be a welcome respite for Ada who suffers from some mental health issues and does not properly understand why all this is happening.

If Ada were to remain in her current two bedroom house she would again be subject to the removal of the spare bedroom subsidy. This is an additional payment she simply cannot afford. Coincidentally, in March, her circumstances with Employment Support Allowance will again change. Unsupported, Ada would face yet more turmoil and uncertainty which has already driven her to the edge of despair. In my view, Ada should not have been subjected to the hardships she has had to endure.

Fortunately, Ada has now been offered a one bedroom bungalow and with the appropriate support is able to make that move. For many others, that support simply does not exist. It is therefore reasonable to await the outcome of the independent review on bedroom tax before closing the loophole.

In my experience at least one of the estimated 5,000 tenants effected by this is extremely vulnerable. If tenants have been on housing benefits for over 17 years and in the same property might that not suggest others effected by this may also have some vulnerabilities too?

* Mark Jewell is Chairman of the Preston and Wyre LibDems. He lost his seat as a Lancashire County Councillor last May, but continues to campaign for his area.

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  • AC Trussell 20th Feb '14 - 9:22am

    The Spare bedroom subsidy ( income cut!) is simply wrong. It should have been for new claimants and those that have somewhere to go.
    I am disgusted in the lib/dems (Nick Clegg) for going along with the “Nasty Party” in the way they are taking money back from people that are just surviving on an amount of money that has been agreed they will receive.
    This should be in the next manifesto.

  • There is something sick about a society that rewards the Deputy Prime Minister with use of Chevening House but punishes poor people for daring to have a spare bedroom.

  • Dave G Fawcett 20th Feb '14 - 11:47am

    I understand and support the principle of the removal of the spare room subsidy or the bedroom tax as it is incorrectly referred to. However, principle an pragmatism do not always coincide! Like AC Trussell, I believe that the legislation should not have been retrospective but, when implemented, should only have applied to new tenants, They at least have a choice about the level of rent they can afford to pay.

    More importantly however the legislation should never have been passed until provision was made for a much greater housing stock to provide single bedroom homes for people to move to.At one point last year in Gateshead, there were about 4500 single people on the council housing waiting list vying for the 64 one bedroom properties available at that time. At the same time the council had just begun to demolish three multi-story blocks of flats containing 180 one bedroom flats. Need I even comment that Gateshead has been Labour run for the last 40 years.

  • Andrew Suffield 22nd Feb '14 - 8:29pm

    Erm. If the only example you can give is one where the system has had the designed outcome, that’s not a very strong case against it…

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