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‘Bedroom tax’ under the spotlight

Recently published research into the impact of the ‘bedroom tax’ in Scotland has found that, despite the financial pressures applied by the tax, Scottish social housing tenants are proving to be resistant to the idea of downsizing their homes.

Research commissioned by Parliament

Professor in Housing Economics at the University of Glasgow, Professor Kenneth Gibb, was commissioned by the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee to examine the scale and depth of the impact of the ‘bedroom tax’ and how the system is coping with downsizing demands.

He concluded that the push factor of the ‘bedroom tax’ that might cause people to move out of their homes was outweighed by the pull factors that kept them in place.

Professor Gibb’s research also highlights that:

  • At least one third of one-bedroom properties are required to house the homeless and are not available to ‘bedroom tax’ payers wishing to downsize.
  • A ‘worryingly’ large number of tenants subject to the ‘bedroom tax’ are building up rent arrears.
  • This situation is likely to be exacerbated by the ‘next wave’ of welfare reform (Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payments, etc.).
  • There is likely to be a continuing need for Discretionary Housing Payments in the medium term.

“This research confirms what we heard in our committee meetings: that disabled people don’t want to leave homes specifically adapted to best suit their needs and that separated families want space to come together as a family overnight,” explained Welfare Reform Committee Convener Michael McMahon MSP. “It is not a case of ‘spare rooms’ but of ‘space to live’, so homes have the capacity for either the facilities or loved ones that people need to make life worth living.”

Legal challenges

The ‘bedroom tax’ has been the subject of a number of tribunal hearings recently, with residents challenging its validity with regards to their own individual set of circumstances. Some of these legal challenges have failed, but a number have achieved significant victories against the application of the tax.

In one case, a woman in England successfully challenged Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council’s decision that she and her husband were under-occupying their three-bedroom council home, reports the Yorkshire Post.

The tenant had recently had a stroke and required to use a wheelchair and to have a stair lift in her property. She argued that her medical condition meant that she and her husband needed separate bedrooms. The tribunal agreed, and said that the couple should be assessed for housing benefit on that basis.

Carers shouldn’t be penalised

In a second case, also from England, Velma Taylor from Oldham faced losing benefits because she and her husband stayed in a two-bedroom house, reports the Oldham-Chronicle. Mrs Taylor has been her husband’s main carer for 16 years, following a car accident in which he suffered severe brain injuries. She argued that she couldn’t share a bedroom with her husband, and needed the two-bedroom home – and was also successful.

“Full-time carers should not be punished for looking after family members,” said Mrs Taylor, speaking to the Oldham-Chronicle.

Scotland has also seen some recent ‘bedroom tax’ challenges, most notably in Fife, where two women in separate cases successfully argued that their spare bedrooms should not be included in the benefit calculations because they were being used for other purposes.

In one case, the tenant was blind and a bedroom was used to store her specialist equipment, and in another, the tenant argued that her spare bedrooms were not actually suitable for sleeping in. See our earlier blog for more details.

Tenant responses

According to the Scottish Parliamentary Committee report, the majority of tenants are not challenging the tax, but are dealing with it in other ways. Some are simply choosing to pay it, while others are seeking Discretionary Housing Payment support, or are trying to get off benefits altogether.

For those who are actually looking to downsize, matters do not appear to be straightforward: the report highlights that the scope for people to downsize their properties is heavily influenced by available housing stock, the labour market, rural/urban settings, housing needs and preferences.

It recommends that the Scottish Housing Regulator and the Scottish Government collect and analyse data on the turnover of properties by size. This should help them to predict and manage the housing stock to best meet the future needs of tenants.

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