It was one of the most divisive policies of the coalition Government in the last parliament and has caused untold pages of newspaper copy pointing at its inherent unfairness. The bedroom tax is seen by many as an attack on the disadvantaged and most vulnerable in our country whilst others have pointed to the fact that it has not achieved much of what the Government intended it to do because of the shortage of housing.
The bedroom tax was a change to the benefits system that said you would receive less help if you have a spare room in your housing association or council property that is not being used. It was introduced in April 2013 and was intended to encourage renters living in larger properties than their needs required to move to smaller homes that were more suitable.
In the run up to the General Election, most of the other parties were for abolishing it, citing the change as grossly unfair and unworkable. But if advocates of change in the benefits system were hoping for a quick resolution to the problem of bedroom tax they were sorely disappointed when the Conservative Government won a majority and a second term in office.
In many parts of the UK, housing benefit is claimed by a wide range of people, a considerable proportion being those who are in work but have low paid jobs. Especially in London, this has caused great difficulties with tenants having to fund the benefit loss out their own wages or risk eviction through rent arrears.
The under occupancy rules state that you could lose 14% of your benefit if you have one spare room and up to 25% if you have more than one. Whilst the reasoning for introducing the tax may on the surface seem logical, especially with the shortage in affordable housing, many critics, including some Tory MPs, have urged the Government to make significant changes so that it is fairer to the most vulnerable in society.
One problem is that many families who are now forced to move from a larger home to a smaller one are not able to do so because of the shortage of available properties. Another is that many disabled people are being hit by the bedroom tax as figures suggest that a third of those affected are claiming disability allowance. A recent news article also pointed out that separated parents who keep a spare room for a visiting child are being unfairly penalised and a judge has even ruled that the tax should not be applied to these cases.
There are already a number of exemptions that can be applied if you are subject to the bedroom tax such as if you have a severely disabled child who needs their own room or need a spare room for an overnight carer. But there are many people who fall outside the exemptions and the criteria for deciding whether there is a spare room at all have been criticised as being open to interpretation.
With the Conservatives now in a majority government, many are now asking for the bedroom tax to be revisited and revised. With more cuts to the benefits bill expected during this parliament, it is unlikely that there will be a review any time soon and many council and social housing renters on low wages may well have more things to worry about with planned cuts in council tax support.