Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The governments new bedroom tax

I speak to a friend regularly on Facebook and we were talking about the new bedroom tax being imposed from April 1st this year. No sadly its not an April Fool joke. She as a professional is very concerned about this.

What is the bedroom tax? You can read more here.

This is how her organisation are dealing with it.

I've been asked to write this article as a Housing Professional dealing with the forthcoming 'bedroom tax'.  Of course, we're meant to give it it's proper name - 'underoccupancy charge'.  For me, and all the of the Housing Professionals I know, it is nothing more than an attack on our sector, with a client group already suffering some of the worst financial hardship (and other) in the country.
I work for a relatively small Housing Association and we've taken a very hands-on approach to preparing for bedroom tax - we firmly believe that newsletters and random standard letters just aren't enough to prepare the people who will be affected by this.  Of course, we have printed articles and sent out letters, but we've also analysed ALL of our tenants and personally visited those who are going to be affected on 1 April.
All of our tenants have been given options - the majority, like any like-minded folk, wish to remain in their home.  They DON'T want to do as the far right in the government suggest - take in a lodger or 'downsize'.
The majority of people affected within our client group are people who are in their 50s and have lived in their family home for a number of years - many are extremely scared and frightened.  Then others are single dads (or mums) who have their children over regularly but don't receive the child benefit - because of a ridiculous and outdated rule that only one parent can be classed as a main carer.
Oh - and those who are disabled and require rooms for carers.  Well, thankfully, the local authority covering the area I work in have taken quite a sensible approach to dealing with our disabled clients and those who require extra bedrooms for overnight care.
Have you heard of Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP)?  These are extra payments that can be claimed if you have an entitlement to housing benefit, don't receive full housing benefit and are suffering financial hardship.
Our local authority has asked all social landlords just to confirm who lives in homes that have been adapted for disabilities (wet floor showers, specially adapted kitchens etc) - they will automatically award DHP to those clients.  For those who require overnight care, they have asked the clients to provide them with a letter to confirm this - my organisation is helping our clients complete these personally to ensure they receive their entitlement.
What about the others? The single dads and the older parents whose kids have left home?  We will try claiming DHP for them, but the budget will be tight and the local authority can't confirm there will be money left.  So what happens to them?  They have their options - at the moment, my organisation will be treating bedroom tax arrears as rent arrears - we can't see any other option just now, although there are obviously moves by Shelter and other agencies to have legislative changes to how they are dealt with in Scotland.  We, as most social landlords, are a charitable organisation and rely on rental income to provide our service.
Are you a tenant affected by this?  Has your landlord been in touch - personally?  If not, you MUST contact them NOW.  I'd be extremely worried about how my landlord is preparing if I hadn't heard from them, given there are now only 5 weeks until the introduction.
Are you a carer?  Are you a family member?  Make sure you know the rules for bedroom tax.
Do you think this won't affect you?  Think again - many social landlords  are changing their allocation policies to fall in line with underoccupancy rules.  This means that people who were previously deemed to be overcrowded (for example, living in a 2 bedroom home with a daughter of 1 and a son of 8) are not - until that eldest child hits the age for bedroom tax criteria - whether you are receiving housing benefit or not.
There are a number of protests coming up - I would urge you to take part.

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