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Alex Kennedy @af_kennedy Campaigns Manager

Debating the bedroom tax

When we produced our third state-of-the-nation report on homelessness in England a year ago, the bedroom tax was identified as the ‘overwhelming’ welfare issue by the local authorities we spoke to.

The Homelessness Monitor 2013 highlighted that the bedroom tax was putting many households under financial pressure. This included a wide range of households – from those with health and care needs, to fathers who needed a spare bedroom when their children came to stay, to those who simply couldn’t find a smaller property.

So one year on, how are households affected by the bedroom tax coping?

In short, with difficulty. Six in ten tenants having to pay the bedroom tax are now in rent arrears, according to the Government’s own evaluation published earlier this year. And research from the National Housing Federation confirms the concerns we set out in our own report – almost a third of affected tenants have found themselves in this position for the very first time.

A quarter of affected tenants, according to the Government’s own figures, have had to borrow money in order to make ends meet. And while the majority of these have had family and friends to fall back on, three per cent of affected tenants have turned to payday lenders. Even more troubling is the finding that well over half are cutting back on household essentials, such as food and heating.

The Government has repeatedly claimed that the bedroom tax will help make the best use of limited social housing stock. But this logic only makes any sense at all if there are smaller homes for people to move to. As we set out in our research, there is a structural mismatch between the size of properties that households should be occupying (as imagined by the architects of the bedroom tax) and the size of properties that actually exist in the social sector.

And so it comes as no surprise that only a quarter of those who have registered to downsize have successfully done so. This leaves an extraordinary number of households stuck with the bedroom tax and left facing the most impossible choices – between heating and eating, between which bills to leave unpaid, and between which family members it’s still tolerable to borrow from.

The good news is that this Wednesday will see MPs debating this issue again. Labour have secured an important debate on the immediate abolition of the bedroom tax – which will crucially push MPs to vote on the issue. While the vote can’t force the Government to take action, a defeat in the debate will be very difficult for them to ignore.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that proposals to at least water down the bedroom tax already had overwhelming parliamentary support. After all, it was just two months ago that Andrew George’s private members’ bill was voted through its second reading by a considerable majority. This sought to exempt disabled tenants from the bedroom tax, as well as those who can’t be found a smaller home. Yet despite overwhelming support for these modest and sensible proposals, the bill failed to progress any further after getting caught up in a political stand-off involving the EU referendum bill.

Let’s hope there are no such nasty surprises this time around. It’s high time we saw a clear statement of intent from Parliament to repeal this ill thought through and unfair policy once and for all. And that people are able to live with dignity in their homes without the threat of eviction and homelessness looming at the door.