The DWP has very belatedly issued the interim review of the bedroom tax (under occupation penalty, removal of the spare room subsidy, whatever). The document can be found here, based on a survey for the period to April/Nov 2013.
And the results are… entirely predictable to everyone but the DWP.
Social landlord rent arrears rose by 16% between April 2013 and November 2013. The report can’t quite bring itself to pin this on the bedroom tax, although noting that this was not a period of the year when arrears have traditionally risen, “it must be emphasised that the cause of this is uncertain and we cannot directly attribute this increase to the RSRS”.
Number of tenants who have been able to downsize (a stated aim of the policy): 4.5% (And this was the first rush, taking the available downsizing properties).
Number of tenants who have moved to the PRS (more expensively): 1.4%
Number of tenants subject to the bedroom tax who are in arrears because of it: 59% Yes, 59%.
Number of notices seeking possession served on ‘bedroom tax only’ arrears (to Nov 2013): 13,356 (10% of those affected)
Number of possession proceedings brought on ‘bedroom tax only’ arrears (to Nov 2013): 1,628
Number of suspended possession orders (SPO) (to Nov 2013): 407
Number of outright possession orders (to Nov 2013): 138
Number of evictions (on bedroom tax only cases): 45 (24 of these from a single landlord! This seems quite disproportionate. Who is this landlord?)
Interesting that the courts are making SPOs. I can see why – it is about the only tool they have to avoid an outright order, absent some detailed and difficult legal argument. But realistically, any SPO will be inevitably be breached in the large majority of cases. It is a very temporary sticking plaster, in the hope that something will turn up.
While the numbers evicted in the first 7 months are small (and apparently distorted by one particular landlord), the numbers starting the possession process (10% of affected tenants) in the first 7 months are significant. And remember these are ‘bedroom tax only’ arrears, not including those whose existing arrears position was tipped over the edge by the bedroom tax and facing claims or breached SPOs as a result.
And how are tenants coping? Not well.
57% spent less on essentials (heating, lighting, food). Only 22% applied for DHPs, 21% borrowed money from friends and family.
And 68% reported that they or someone in their household had a disability, 58% receiving some form of care.
DHPs? Well… Tenants mostly didn’t know about them. The most vulnerable has no idea how to apply. Landlords complained of a lack of consistency across areas, many authorities lacked clear guidance or processes for deciding, and local authorities were taking disability benefits into account when assessing for DHPs (including DLA – roll on the judicial review of this!). The survey of councils showed that the very large majority (over 75%) included DLA in consideration of means. And some LAs, of course, refused DHPs to people who smoked or had televisions, on the basis that the poor should have no pleasures whatsoever.
Oh and of those tenants seeking work, or for more work/additional hours, 87% had been unsuccessful so far.
So, sneaked out on the day of the reshuffle, this basically confirms what we had all told the government before the regulations came in. The bedroom tax won’t work. It will cause unnecessary hardship and suffering and simply turn Govt HB spending into social landlord arrears and tenant debt. And those possession proceedings? Just the very start, the first ripples of the waves to come…