Government backtracks on pensioner bedroom tax

The Department for Work and Pensions has pledged to protect some of the pensioners that could be hit by the bedroom tax.

Inside Housing last week revealed thousands of pensioners could be affected by the bedroom tax - even though the government had previously maintained it would only affect benefit claimants of working age.

The DWP last week stated that mixed-age couples, where one is under and one over pension credit age, will be hit by the bedroom tax when it is rolled into the new universal credit from October if they are currently claiming benefits.

However the department this week backtracked and said it will ensure existing mixed-age claimants, of which the Chartered Institute of Housing calculates there are 67,000, are fully protected from having to pay the tax. A DWP press officer said its previous statement had been inaccurate. He put this down to ‘crossed wires’ and apologised for being misleading.

Sam Lister, policy and practice officer at the CIH, said: ‘We are pleased that people won’t be pushed backwards on to the bedroom tax, it would have created confusion and led to people being exempt when the tax comes in and then being affected at a later stage.’

Thousands of new, older claimants - pensioners who are in ‘mixed-age’ couples claiming benefits for the first time under universal credit - will, however, still be hit by the penalty. They will have to wait until both reach pension age to be exempt from the bedroom tax.

Mr Lister said the government had been ‘disingenuous’ to claim the policy only affects people of working age.

There is also confusion over how mixed-age couples whose circumstances change will be affected. A DWP spokesperson said the department will publish more detail on this shortly.

Under the bedroom tax social housing households with spare rooms will have their benefit reduced from 1 April. The policy is expected to affect 660,000 households, who will lose an average of £12 per week from their benefit if they have one spare room and £22 if they have two or more, according to DWP estimates.

A spokesperson for the DWP said: ‘We want to reassure pensioners that they will not be affected by this policy now, or when moving from housing benefit onto universal credit, even if one partner is below pension age.’