Make a wish

If ministers thought the furore over the bedroom tax would die down once it was introduced in April, they were sadly mistaken. What they insist on calling the removal of the spare room subsidy has now been in operation for over 200 days and, if anything, the controversy is still growing.

What began as a harsh but arcane cut in housing benefit – the under-occupation penalty or social sector size criteria – has instead forced its way into the public consciousness. As James Green, external affairs manager of the National Housing Federation, explains: ‘When we started our work on the Welfare Reform Bill it seemed like it would be impossible to make it mainstream or get any traction. Now you can go into any pub in the country and say ‘bedroom tax’ and people know what you’re talking about.’

At a political level, it’s become a symbol of the unfairness of the government’s welfare reforms. At the Lib Dem conference, nobody from the party leadership defended one of their own government’s policies. At the Labour conference, Ed Miliband shook off his party’s caution on welfare to pledge that he would repeal it. At the SNP conference, Alex Salmond used the imposition of the bedroom tax from Westminster as a key part of his appeal to the Scottish people to vote for independence. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some Conservative backbenchers are becoming uncomfortable about the policy as they realise its full implications.

Read the rest of my feature on the human, political and  legal implications of the bedroom tax at 24 Housing

Seeing the cracks

Whether it’s the UN, the Lib Dem conference or tribunals in Fife, the cracks in the bedroom ceiling are growing by the day.

As Pete Apps reports for Inside Housing, only two members of the junior coalition party voted against a grassroots motion at the conference in Glasgow yesterday calling for an immediate evaluation of the controversial policy.

The motion condemned the policy that Lib Dem MPs were instructed to call the ‘spare room subsidy’ for ‘discriminating against the most vulnerable in society’.  Richard Kemp, former leader of Liverpool Council, called it ‘reprehensible and evil’ and Baroness Shirley Williams, probably the party’s senior figure, called it a ‘big mistake’.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing

Shared vision

Shared ownership seems an obvious solution to the housing problems of people on low and middle incomes – so why does it remain on the margins?

A report out this week from Shelter looks at perceptions of and problems with the part rent-part buy tenure and ways that it could be reformed to take it into the mainstream.

In the process, it makes a pretty convincing case that the piecemeal, alphabet soup of government ownership schemes has done little to make housing more affordable for the squeezed middle and more to create confusion about the options available. In particular, it shows how shared ownership could make more homes in more places more affordable for more people than either version of Help to Buy. The report finds that almost eight out of 10 low to middle income families could not afford a family home with a 95 per cent Help to Buy mortgage.

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Rule of law

If you take even a cursory glance at the circumstances of the 10 families involved in the legal challenge to the bedroom tax you’ll be left wondering how discretionary housing payments can possibly resolve their problems.

I read the High Court ruling painfully aware that I lack the legal expertise to interpret the finer points of the European Convention on Human Rights and Public Sector Equality Duty but with enough experience to know that what is lawful is not necessarily the same as what is fair.

The background to the case has already been covered in detail elsewhere. As Inside Housing reports, although the judges said that new measures must be introduced to protect disabled children who need their own room, housing groups were left bitterly disappointed by the dismissal of the other part of the judicial review and lawyers plan to appeal. Read this excellent blog by Kate Webb of Shelter or see statements by the solicitors involved here and here if you haven’t already for the background.

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Renting reform

Wales is set to go where England failed to tread on tenancy reform under plans put forward this week.

The Renting Homes white paper published by the Welsh Government is an updated version of the Law Commission proposals that the previous government in England seemed to like at first, then dithered over and finally allowed to lapse at the last election.

So now Wales is set to reap the benefits of two simple and clearly understood forms of tenancy while England continues to cope with a mess of different ones. These are more than just technical, legal changes. The white paper argues that: ‘The current differences between renting a home from a local authority, housing association or private landlord contribute to weaknesses in the way the whole housing system works. Renting a home is not always seen as a good choice. Indeed, it is sometimes considered to be the last option.’

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing

Bedroom cracks

Northern Ireland could be set to scrap the bedroom tax as fears grow about the impact on tenants when it is imposed elsewhere from Monday.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has still not approved the Stormont Welfare Reform Bill and is not due to discuss it again until April 16.

However, housing organisations believe the Northern Ireland government is now increasingly likely to decide not to impose the size criteria despite the fact that it will have to meet the £17 million cost from elsewhere in its budget.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing

Bedtime stories

It seems remarkable that with less than 40 days to go until we start taxing them we still don’t really know for certain what a bedroom is.

So it’s not surprising that the move by Knowsley Housing Trust to reclassify 566 of its two- and three-bed homes as one- and two-bed has attracted so much attention. Chief executive Bob Taylor told Inside Housing that a stock review showed some homes are currently classified as having more bedrooms than they actually have, because tenants are not using the extra rooms as bedrooms and were therefore paying too much rent.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing

Rogue state

There is good news and bad news in a Shelter survey about rogue landlords out today but neither is quite what it appears at first glance.

The bad news is that complaints by tenants to their local authority about their private landlord are up 27 per cent in the last three years.

Worse, of 85,000 complaints in the last 12 months, 62 per cent related to category I and II hazards – things like dangerous electrics and damp that are serious or life-threatening, And there were 781 cases where health services had to get involved because of the behaviour or neglect of private landlords.

Read the rest of this post at Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing

My criminal past

Back in the early 80s I did what many people arriving in London did: I squatted in a house that had been left empty. Anyone doing the same after Saturday will be a criminal.

The house in question was owned by the Greater London Council (GLC) and like many others owned by local authorities all over London it had been left empty for years because of a road scheme that never was or a slum clearance scheme that was never finished. Nobody was living there and, given the big hole in the floor of one of the bedrooms and the water streaming down the walls of most of the others, that was understandable. So when we squatted it we were not denying anybody else a home, we were simply fixing it up and creating one for ourselves in what became one more squat in a whole street of squats. Given that we were all on the dole (this was 1981, the worst time to be a graduate until now) we were probably even saving the taxpayer money.

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