week marks the anniversary of the introduction of the
under-occupation charge or bedroom tax. What has been its impact on
councils and tenants so far, and what are the prospects for the
future? Together with an examination of benefit caps and the
roll-out of Universal Credit, this will be the topic of ARCH's next free seminar for
member councils, to be held in Birmingham on 19
suggest that fewer claimants have been affected by the
under-occupation charge than had been expected - 498,000 in
November 2013 rather than the 660,000 predicted by the DWP. It is
also clear that the proportion of tenants affected has been greater
in some regions than others, with 78,836 affected in the North West
compared with little over 52,000 in London.
Evidence of the impact on rent payment is mixed, with Inside
Housing running stories in successive weeks, one reporting a surge in arrears on
Merseyside, the next including findings from a survey of 40
social landlords by auditor Baker Tilley showing that only half had
seen an increase in arrears. Many councils have used discretionary
housing payments to mitigate the impact of the withdrawal of
benefit, but here again, news stories reporting that DHP
allocations are inadequate to match the scale of need are matched
by reports of councils underspending their allocations.
There is some evidence that more tenants than expected have so
far managed to meet their benefit shortfall from their own
resources, although it is doubtful how long they will be able to
sustain this. Another important point is that the roll-out of
Universal Credit has been slower than expected, with only 3,780 so
far claiming the new benefit.
Together with the National Federation of ALMOs and Councils with
ALMOs Group, ARCH has surveyed member councils to get a better
picture of the impact to date. A quick reminder to any
council which has not so far replied - today is the final date for
responses! Results of the survey will be available to inform
discussion at the seminar on 19 May.
Looking ahead, the Liberal Democrats seem poised to go into the
next General Election proposing to scrap the bedroom tax for all
but those who refuse a reasonable offer of alternative
accommodation. Labour is already committed to scrap it. The
Conservatives' overriding focus on cutting the fiscal deficit
commits them to a further wave of benefit reforms, but they have
not yet declared where the axe will fall. Perhaps matters will be
clearer by May.