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11.09.13

UN special investigator recommends abolishing bedroom tax

A UN housing expert has called for the spare room subsidy policy – labelled the ‘bedroom tax’ by critics – to be axed. Raquel Rolnik spoke out about the policy following a two-week visit around British council housing.

She will present her report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next spring.

Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps said Rolnik had an agenda and was “completely wrong” to make those comments.

Rolnik warned that the policy, which was introduced in April to reduce the amount of housing benefit paid to people in under occupied housing, could constitute a violation of the human right to adequate housing. “My immediate recommendation is that the bedroom tax is abolished,” she said.

Britain seemed to be failing to provide sufficient quantities of affordable social housing, she added.

“I was very shocked to hear how people really feel abused in their human rights by this decision and why – being so vulnerable – they should pay for the cost of the economic downturn, which was brought about by the financial crisis. 

“It's so clear that the Government didn't really assess the impact on lives when it took this decision … The mechanism that they have in place to mitigate it – the discretionary payment that they provide the councils with, it doesn't solve anything, it's for just a couple of months, and the councils cannot count on that on a permanent basis, they don't know if it's going to be available next year, so it's useless.”

But Shapps told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “It is completely wrong and an abuse of the process for somebody to come over, to fail to meet with government ministers, to fail to meet with the department responsible, to produce a press release two weeks after coming, even though the report is not due out until next spring, and even to fail to refer to the policy properly throughout the report.

“That is why I am writing to the secretary general today to ask for an apology and an investigation as to how this came about.”

And a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “Britain has a very strong housing safety net and even after our necessary reforms we continue to pay over 80% of most claimants' rent if they are affected by the ending of the spare room subsidy.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com

(Image shows Raquel Rolnik: AP Photo/Keystone, Salvatore Di Nolfi)

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