Tag Archives: Bedroom tax

With Benefits Street finished, the reality starts to bite

The fifth and final episode of Benefits Street aired on Monday this week.

Channel 4 executives will give themselves a pat on the back. The show has delivered their highest ratings in years.

Other channels joined in too. Channel 5 aired The Big Benefits Row, giving a timely boost to the career prospects of failed reality-show contestant Katie Hopkins and ex-Tory MP Edwina Currie.

Currie also recently gave a now infamous interview on BBC Radio Stoke in which she criticised foodbanks. “I get very, very troubled at the number of people who are using food banks who think that it’s fine to pay to feed their dog, their dog is in good nick and beautiful, but they never learn to cook, they never learn to manage and the moment they’ve got a bit of spare cash they’re off getting another tattoo,” she said.

For six weeks the size and shape of Britain’s social security system has been part of a national conversation.

But, after Benefits Street, life will go back to something like normal for the residents of James Turner Street.

A report released this week by the National Housing Federation (NHF) confirmed what that normality looks like.

Less than a year since it was introduced, two thirds of people affected by the bedroom tax are now in rent arrears.

We don’t know the actual number of people that is, as the NHF report only polled housing associations, who house a little under half of all those affected. But it is likely to be in the hundreds of thousands. We also don’t know how much money these people have spent on dog food and tattoos.

But we do know that one in seven of those polled, people in the most dire straits, has been served with an eviction risk letter.

We do know that 63% of those affected are disabled. We know the government’s discretionary housing payments will be nowhere near enough to protect them – with demand for it up by 237%.

We know that the numbers of available one-bedroom properties isn’t close to the number needed for the 180,000 who are under-occupying two-bedroom homes. Housing professionals say that even if they let all of their available properties to those who are under-occupying, it would still take years to rehouse everyone affected.

We know that low income households are now spending, on average, £2.10 a day on food.

We do know that foodbanks are now issuing ‘kettle boxes’ to clients who can’t afford the electricity needed to turn on the oven.

And we certainly know that for every foodbank user Edwina Currie describes, there are countless others with stories like this one.

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Three quarters affected by bedroom tax in Rotherham now in arrears

Rotherham Town Hall
Rotherham Town Hall

 

Three quarters of households affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ in Rotherham are now in rent arrears, with those owing most now at risk of losing their homes.

Just eight months on from the introduction of the policy, Rotherham borough council, which still retains its council housing stock, is owed £305,000 in unpaid rent.

3,335 households in Rotherham are affected by the under-occupancy charge, or ‘bedroom tax’, which sees a reduction in the amount of housing benefit given to those who are deemed to have spare bedrooms.

14% is docked for one spare room, and 25% for two or more.

1300 Rotherham tenants are in a relatively small amount of arrears, of up to £50.

But around 400 households alone make up £160,000 of the overall debt, raising fears that they could face possible eviction.

Dave Richmond, the council’s director of housing and neighbourhood services, says that could occur.

“I think so, eventually. Generally [people’s debt] is going up by relatively small amounts, somewhere between £11-20 a week. But obviously if that went on for a year or two and they don’t pay anything, then that’s £1000 a year and you could quite easily get the point where potentially we would [evict].

“If someone’s making an effort and trying to pay something off it and they’re genuinely struggling, and if they’ve done things like register to downsize, then we’d work with that.

“But if someone just digs their heels in the sand and basically says ‘I’m not paying this debt’…then eventually we’ve got to take action.”

Richmond is also sceptical of other local authorities who claim they have a ‘no-eviction’ policy concerning those affected.

“In reality they don’t. If somebody just refuses to pay then they’re not going to be prepared to tolerate that indefinitely.

“If someone is running up £1000 a year debt are you going to leave them for ten years and have a £10,000 debt? I just can’t see that.”

But the council is considering writing off debt for people who are genuinely seeking to move home but are finding it difficult.

It has also reviewed how it allocates houses in the future. Its new ‘right to refuse’ allocations policy is based on stringent financial tests to prevent people moving into a new home they cannot afford, and it has introduced fixed-term tenancies for large families, guaranteeing a house only until the youngest child turns 21.

Despite its obvious financial implications for the council, Richmond is sympathetic to those struggling to keep up with the rent.

He said: “To some degree I can understand the logic of the policy.

“We have an issue of overcrowding and people requiring bigger properties.

“[But] it feels to have been happening in such a way that it’s been relatively insensitive to individuals. Actually getting people to downsize in other ways would have been more sensible.”

Steve Ruffle, Development Manager for Rotherham Federation of Tenants and Residents said: “We have a clear policy of opposition to the bedroom tax. We very clearly feel it’s unfair.

“We do have concerns about people falling into arrears and welcome support the council and other partners can give to support people in this situation.”