Over half of bedroom tax victims forced into debt

More than half of families hit by the government's controversial bedroom tax have been pushed into debt, new research has revealed.

A survey of 51 English housing associations by the National Housing Federation (NHF), found that 51% (32,432) of residents affected by the widely condemned under-occupancy policy have been unable to pay their rent between April and June.

And a quarter (25%) of those affected by the tax have fallen into rent arrears for the first time, according to a smaller survey of 38 housing associations.

Earlier research by the NHF also shows that many families who try to downsize to avoid the charge will be stuck where they are due to a shortage of smaller homes - and will still be charged the penalty.

In March, the Federation estimated that although 180,000 households were under-occupying two-bed homes, only 85,000 one-beds became available in 2011-12.3

David Orr, NHF chief executive, is due to highlight the findings at the Federation’s annual conference in Birmingham this week. 
The CEO will call on the coalition government to rethink the policy immediately – and press the opposition to commit to repeal.

David Orr said: “This is the most damning evidence yet to show that the bedroom tax is pushing thousands of families into a spiralling cycle of debt.

“If these figures are replicated nationwide, over 330,000 households could already be struggling to pay their rent and facing a frightening and uncertain future.

“What’s more, people can’t even move to smaller homes to avoid the bedroom tax because there aren’t enough smaller properties out there. Housing associations are working flat-out to help their tenants cope with the changes, but they can’t magic one-bedroom houses out of thin air. People are trapped.

“What more proof do politicians need that the bedroom tax is an unfair, ill-planned disaster that is hurting our poorest families? There is no other option but to repeal.”

Sovereign Housing Association, which took part in the NHF survey, has 2,360 households affected by the bedroom tax. During the first three months of the policy the majority fell into arrears. Although some, with support, have got their payments on track, around a third are still not paying in full.

Ann Santry CBE, Sovereign's chief executive, said: “With huge demand for affordable homes we recognise the need to maximise the use of every room and so we’re investing heavily in supporting our residents to adapt to the changes wherever possible.

“However, six months in, we are seeing the most vulnerable families, couples or individuals on the lowest incomes beginning to struggle. Sometimes there are simply no suitable smaller properties available while in other cases the cost of moving a disabled resident from their two-bed home to another property which will need to be adapted seems to outweigh any benefits to the public purse.

“The policy also takes no account of the size or suitability of 'spare' rooms. Is it reasonable to expect two teenagers to share a tiny box room, or a 15-year-old to share with her baby sister?”