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12.03.13

Partial climbdown by DWP over bedroom tax

The Government is set to back down over one particularly controversial aspect of the so-called bedroom tax, as it is expected to allow councils to exempt families with a severely disabled child who cannot share with a sibling from the loss of part of their housing benefit.

The cost of the allowance will be paid for centrally and not from the discretionary fund which is available to local authorities, but ministers are said to believe the cost will be small.

The main provisions of the bedroom tax – officially known as the spare room subsidy – are still going to come into force however, despite huge pressure from Labour and a number of campaign groups and associations.

Tenants will lose 14% of their housing benefit if they have one spare room, or 25% if they have two or more, with room-sharing expected for two children under 10, or two children of the same sex aged under 16. 660,000 are expected to be affected.

But opponents say the Government’s position is deeply flawed, because there is a huge under-supply of one-bedroom accommodation in the social housing sector. This means that single people stuck in a too-large property have nowhere to move to avoid the ‘tax’.

Even Conservative bloggers have raised concerns, with one, Neill Harvey-Smith, discussing his own father’s living situation and saying: “One housing association in Cleveland, helpfully, has two available properties for 1,800 underoccupiers. The mismatch is comical, or would be, were the punchline not homelessness…Housing associations clearly need longer to secure the right housing stock matched to demand.”

Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, said: “As the law stands right now where a local authority agrees that a family needs an extra bedroom because their child’s disability means they are unable to share, the family can be entitled to the spare room subsidy in respect of that extra bedroom.”

But his Labour opposite number, Liam Byrne MP, said: “The chaos engulfing the bedroom tax is deepening by the day. Last week we learnt that even the prime minister doesn’t know how hard the bedroom tax will hit disabled children and now ministers claim they haven’t even published all the rules yet. The whole thing is a total shambles. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of families are in the firing line to get clobbered by this wretched policy. Ministers have got to get a grip of this mess fast.”

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