Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How to get round the 'bedroom tax'

Lots of people are very upset in the UK over what has come to be known as the 'bedroom tax' or 'Under occupancy rules'. It hits poorer families renting from their local authority or a housing association hard.

What is the 'bedroom tax'?

The  'bedroom tax' is reform to the way housing benefit is provided in England, Scotland and Wales. It is due to be start on 1st April 2013.

The Government calls it removing the 'spare room subsidy' but it's also been referred as an 'under-occupation charge'.

Where does it apply?

The rules apply to those of working age (currently those born after  05 October 1951) living in council houses or housing association property.
Under the new rules
• Couples are expected to share a bedroom (Whether you snore loudly or can't stand the sight of each other  or not.)
• Two boys or two girls under 16 are expected to share
• A boy and a girl under 10 are expected to share

What does it mean to the poor?

The changes mean a cut to the amount of housing benefit people will receive if they are deemed to have a spare bedroom in their council house or housing association home.Those with one spare bedroom will have their housing benefit cut by 14%. Those with two or more extra bedrooms get a cut of 25 per cent. Tenants on housing benefit will either have to make up the difference towards their rents themselves, or move in to smaller properties.

The government's idea is that they should reduce the housing benefit of those who have more bedrooms than they need. If a couple have one child and they live in a three bedroom house then the government says they should either move to a two bedroom house or rent out the spare room. By doing this they hope to reduce the pressure on housing and save a billion pounds a year. Seems a reasonable idea at first but:
1. Moving is expensive.
2. Where a family has split up keeping a bedroom available for when you look after children isn't allowed.
3. Those disabled can not assume a bedroom will be allowed for their carer or essential equipment - it's up to the council.
4. There are few available houses with one or two bedrooms
5. If you are settled in a location it's hard to be forced to move to a new location.
6. Should young children have to share a bedroom as the rules suggest?
7. If your spare room is caused by a death you have a year to find alternatives.
8. You may be forbidden to rent out a room as the government suggests in your rental agreement.

Has this sort of 'tax' been used before?

Window tax caused this blocked up window
Yes, we in the UK have had this sort of 'tax' before:
• In 1696 - 1851 a window tax was in force - we bricked up a lot of windows
• 1662 - 1689 a hearth or fireplace tax was introduced - we bricked  those up too.

Is there a way round the bedroom tax? 

Yes there is! A bedroom is defined as a room bigger than 70 square feet of floor space. Anything smaller is considered a box room. Many UK houses have a third bedroom little bigger than this. By building a false wall or a cupboard in this room it's floor space can be reduced to box room size. With careful design this permanent cupboard can be easily removed when this stupid regulation is repealed.
Unfortunately this is going to cost money for the materials - timber framing, plasterboard, a door. It may be you can persuade your housing association/council to help but if not then those least able to pay will have to do it all themselves.

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