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Lord Freud takes a pasting in bedroom tax 'cock-up' debate

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Lord Freud takes a pasting in bedroom tax 'cock-up' debate

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Central Government and also in Bill Payments, Housing

Lord Freud takes a pasting in bedroom tax 'cock-up' debate Lord Freud takes a pasting in bedroom tax 'cock-up' debate

Lord Freud has confirmed that a policy oversight that means thousands of social housing tenants are exempt from paying the bedroom tax will be closed in March.

Under legislation passed by the last Labour government, and apparently overlooked by the Department for Work and Pensions when it designed the under-occupancy policy, tenants who have been continuously claiming housing benefit since January 1996 or before while living in the same property are immune from the charge.

In an urgent statement to the House of Lords yesterday, Lord Freud said: "The housing benefit regulations will be amended in March 2014 to ensure that all working-age social sector tenants who underoccupy their homes are subject to a reduction in their eligible rent, regardless of the length of their tenancy, unless they fall within one of the limited exceptions.

"The exceptions include certain excluded tenancies, shared ownership tenancies, mooring charges for houseboats, rent for caravan sites, temporary accommodation and supported exempt accommodation."

Liberal Democrat Lord Greaves branded the oversight a "cock-up" while Labour Peer Lord McKenzie of Luton said it was "another example of the incompetence that surrounds the government’s welfare reforms, and their careless approach to people’s lives in introducing it".

He added: "The upshot is that there are thousands of people who are being hit illegally with housing benefit reductions, and thousands of people who are unnecessarily caused undue stress because of the effect of this tax.

"I would like to ask the minister how the government are going to rectify matters for individuals who are denied their full benefit entitlement to date, whose rent arrears may have affected their credit rating, who have moved house in response to the tax and given up their security of tenure, or who have fallen into the clutches of private sector landlords who are now intent on evicting tenants claiming housing benefit? Is not this mess a further reason to scrap this wretched tax?"

Lord Freud said the numbers involved in were small but confirmed that those affected would be repaid in full and payments would be go through as housing payment "in the normal way".

Labour's Lord McAvoy summed up: "My Lords, what a catalogue of disasters: the bedroom tax applied illegally to thousands of people; refunds that will be demanded and quite rightly paid; thousands paid a discretionary housing allowance by mistake and not obliged to repay the cash; and people forced to move house from areas they have lived in all of their lives. The minister boasted of his role in introducing this tax.

He also called on Lord Freud to admit his personal responsibility and acknowledge that (the bedroom tax) is "a financial and social disaster".

Lord Freud declined adding: "The department is engaged in a massive programme of reform. We have successfully brought in a benefit cap, and we have launched PIP, the universal credit and housing benefit reform, to name just a few."

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