Council warning over proposed ‘bedroom tax’ – Government’s plans could cost vulnerable Manchester tenants millions

By Andrew Little

Manchester residents could lose out by around £8 million a year if government welfare reform plans were to go ahead unchanged, predict Manchester City Council.

Existing proposals to charge residents for spare rooms in rented accommodation – dubbed a ‘bedroom tax’ – would lead to around 14,000 tenants in Manchester being worse off.

Households with one room spare will have their housing benefits cut by 13% and those with two rooms unoccupied will be deducted 23%.

On average, this would equate to cuts of £8-£12 a week for tenants in the first category and £14-£18 a week for those in the latter group.

Councillor Paul Andrews, Executive Member for Neighbourhood Services and chair of the North West Housing Forum, said: “The proposals as they stand will have a significant impact on people’s lives. Many people who are already vulnerable will be placed in a worse position by being penalised for the sole reason that their home has a spare bedroom.

“Manchester has a shortage of smaller properties for people to move to and tenants could be put in the position of losing benefit just because they are unable to find alternative accommodation.”

The Bill – which states only one room is to be allocated for any two children of the same sex aged under 16 and any two children of different sexes aged under 10 – was rejected by the House of Lords last month over concerns of the effect this would have on children, especially those with disabilities.

Children’s Commissioner, Dr Maggie Atkinson, said: “We have identified groups of children whose rights may be breached by the implementation of the Bill. Children whose families receive welfare benefits are particularly vulnerable due to the high level of poverty amongst this group.”

The Children’s Commissioner is a position created after the Children’s Act 2004 whose role is to protect the interests of children in the UK, especially those whose voices are least likely to be heard.

Dr Atkinson said: “Children have no power to take up incentives in the Bill to find work or move to cheaper accommodation in order to have more money to live on. Creating such incentives may have a serious impact on them as independent rights-holders.”

An amendment suggested by Lord Best to exempt families who were unable to move to a smaller property from the charges was back by his peers by 258 votes to 190.

The National Housing Federation, the umbrella organisation for social housing providers in the UK, believe the under-occupation aspect of the Welfare Reform Bill should be removed completely.

A statement from them read: “There is a very limited supply of one bed properties into which people will be able to move.

“Modelling by the Federation shows that about 180,000 social tenants in England are ‘under-occupying’ two-bed homes, but only 68,230 one-bed social homes came available for letting in the year 2009-10.

People will see a cut in their benefit with no prospect of being able to move to a smaller social home.”

This opposition has come as a blow to the government as they seek to carry out their catchphrase ‘tough decisions’ in reforming social welfare.

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