Leeds Council Stand Up To Bedroom Tax

Posted: June 2, 2013 in Austerity, Bedroom Tax, UK

From April 1st 2013 those claiming housing benefit in the UK have been put in a position of fear that they may lose some of that benefit if they are deemed to have a spare bedroom in their council or housing association home. This action, which is part of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, amounts to a serious attack on some of societies most vulnerable with separated parents who share the care of their children, Disabled people and the elderly amongst those who will be affected. The cut will be a fixed percentage of the Housing Benefit eligible rent set at 14% for one extra bedroom and 25% for two or more extra bedrooms. This will mean an average of £14 a week will be lost by those affected.

But the announcement of what is now commonly known as the ‘Bedroom Tax’ has not come without opposition. Activists nationwide have been taking to the streets calling demonstrations with opponents of the change arguing that it is unworkable as there are simply not enough smaller homes available for people to move to if they cannot afford extra rent. Great concern also lies with the prospect that if the coalition government feel that the bedroom tax has been successful then it will be fit to be applied to larger sections of people living in council accommodation or beyond. Some have even made the suggestion that such moves could turn this into the poll tax of the 21st century.

For those still questioning the severity of such attacks they need only look at the tragic death of Stephanie Bottrill, a 53-year-old grandmother from in Solihull in the West Midlands. From childhood Stephanie had suffered with the rare condition myaesthenia gravis (MG), a condition which causes chronic weakness in the affected muscles. Unfortunately despite the often debilitating condition Ms Bottrill did not meet the specific criteria to be eligible for Disability Living Allowence (DLA) and likewise received no joy after being put through the ATOS work capability assessment. This left Ms Bottrill like most non-pensioners in receipt of benefits with little support, little support that did not increase much in April 2013 after the government restricted up-rating, first to the Consumer Price Index, then to 1% a method used to make some of the biggest cuts in benefits. Then came the bedroom tax requiring Ms Bottrill to pay an extra for having a ‘spare’ bedroom. This was the final and most tragic cut as Ms Bottrill died in the early hours of May 4 after she was struck by a lorry on the M6 motorway. Just days before she died, the 53-year-old, from in Solihull in the West Midlands, told neighbours she simply could not afford to live any more. In a letter to her son Steven, 27, she said: “Don’t blame yourself for me ending my life. The only people to blame are the Government.”

But beyond the streets rebellion has begun. Leeds council has announced that using a legitimate loophole in the law it will reclassify around 837 spare bedrooms in its social homes as “non-specific rooms” meaning that tenants in affected properties are not classed as underoccupying their homes and do not have to pay a surcharge as a result. Those who have already been subject to the bedroom tax and have lost out on housing benefit in the last two months are set to be refunded. Councillor Peter Gruen, the Labour member responsible for neighbourhoods, planning and support services, claims that it would cost the council more to evict tenants than it would to simply accept that many could not pay. He said: “The idea of taxing poor people for bedroom tax is perverse. The charges we incur in legal fees chasing up the increasing rent arrears from the last two months is farcical. It costs the courts far more money to evict people.”

Research collected by The Guardian from 107 local authorities reveals that as a result of the bedroom tax, 86,000 households had been forced to look for one-bedroom homes, of which only 33,000 have become available in the past year.

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