Work and Pensions select committee report into housing costs - reaction
Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Central Government and also in Housing
DWP select committee report into housing costs - reaction
Housing and homelessness organisations who gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Select committee housing costs inquiry have been responding to today's report.
Grainia Long, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), said: “It is clear that the committee has considered the evidence submitted by CIH and organisations that work with the people worst affected by welfare reform very carefully – we hope the government takes its recommendations equally seriously.”
Today’s report recommends that people who receive higher level disability benefits (Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payments) should be exempt from the bedroom tax.
Grainia Long added: “The bedroom tax has been in place for a year now and it has been clear for some time that this policy is causing hardship and suffering for thousands of people across Great Britain. It’s not fair, it doesn’t work and we believe it should be scrapped. However, the select committee’s recommendation would help a significant proportion of those most unfairly affected by the bedroom tax – around one third of all people currently affected.”
The PlaceShapers group of housing associations was represented at the inquiry by Aileen Evans, managing director of Aragon Housing Association.
Commenting on the report, Tony Stacey, PlaceShapers chair, said: “This report is excellent news for us as housing providers and for our tenants. While it stops short of recommending the abolition of the bedroom tax, it makes recommendations, which if implemented, would go a long way towards drawing the sting out of the most pernicious aspects.
“From the evidence members received, the committee has clearly taken on board that much of the welfare reform policy, including the bedroom tax, has had a devastating effect on many vulnerable tenants and has questioned whether it has achieved the Government’s objective in making best use of our housing stock.
“We are also pleased to see the committee has recognised that Discretionary Housing Payments are an inadequate way to provide extra support to some households, particularly where people have disabilities.”
Riverside chief executive Carol Matthews gave verbal evidence to the committee, and was able to describe the impact of the ‘bedroom tax’ on the lives of Riverside tenants, explaining that nearly 50% of those affected had fallen into rent arrears.
She also highlighted the cost of this measure for Riverside as a business, through the additional services put in place to support tenants, as well as the financial drain of increasing voids and bad debts. She estimated a total loss over five years of £22m, money that could have been invested in new homes and services.
Carol Matthews said: “We are delighted with this fair and balanced report from a cross-party group of MPs. When I gave evidence, the committee asked very searching questions, and many of our practical suggestions have been reflected in the report’s recommendations.
“We are particularly pleased to see that the committee has taken a measured approach to the ‘bedroom tax’, calling for exemptions for severely disabled tenants and more consistency in the application of a properly resourced discretionary housing payments system. However we are disappointed that it stopped short of accepting our recommendation for redrawing the line defining under-occupation to allow an extra bedroom – what we call a ‘common sense bedroom standard’.
“We also support the committee’s call for vulnerable tenants to be able to opt to have the housing cost element of Universal Credit paid directly to their landlord, as now, and continue to encourage DWP to explore ways of ensuring effective data sharing between landlords and the department.”
Leslie Morphy, chief executive of Crisis, said: “The government itself said that cuts must not be made at the expense of the most vulnerable. Yet today’s select committee report is clear that housing benefit cuts are hitting the most vulnerable members of society hardest. They are forcing more people into poor quality accommodation and leaving them at greater risk of homelessness.
“The government must listen to this verdict from MPs across the political spectrum and rethink its cuts to housing benefit, particularly for those who cannot change their circumstances by working or who are struggling in low paid jobs. Without prompt action, the government risks driving homelessness still higher.
“We particularly welcome the committee’s recommendation that the government needs to review the Shared Accommodation Rate, as called for by our Shut Out campaign.
"However, any review must cover how rates are calculated in the first place. Housing benefit for young people should at least pay for a room in a cheap shared house, yet too often it does not. Payments must genuinely reflect local market rates.”
Habinteg Chief Executive Paul Gamble said: “We know from our research with Habinteg’s tenants that two-thirds of those affected by the bedroom tax are disabled people, and 47% are tenants in wheelchair standard properties. So we wholly endorse the committee’s recommendation that anyone living in a home that has been adapted for them, or is in receipt of higher level DLA, should be exempt from the bedroom tax.
“The bedroom tax is an unfair policy in general but, as the committee recognises, not only is it mainly hitting disabled people, but disabled people have few options in response. Disabled people have on average lower incomes, higher costs, face a national shortage of accessible homes and few smaller properties and, if they can move, risk losing investment made to adapt housing.
“The kinds of cuts investigated by the Work and Pensions committee are a direct threat to disabled people’s right to independent living and result in greater poverty and inequality. The committee is to be congratulated for demanding action to reverse these invidious cuts.”
David Ogilvie, policy manager for the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, was among those who gave oral evidence to the parliamentary committee.
Responding to the publication of the report, he said: “We wholeheartedly agree with the committee that the ‘bedroom tax’ is a blunt instrument. We are pleased to see this report acknowledges our many serious concerns about the devastating impact that welfare reforms such as the ‘bedroom tax’ and the benefits cap have had and continue to have upon council and housing association tenants across Scotland.”
Mr Ogilvie continued: “We would particularly wish to endorse the committee’s call for exemptions from ‘bedroom tax’ for disabled households, especially if their home has been specifically adapted around their needs. Similarly, we are encouraged that the committee has agreed that where a household is under-occupying, but there is no suitable, reasonable alternative available, the ‘bedroom tax’ should not be applied.
"This is something which the SFHA had successfully campaigned for at the Bill stage, only to see that safeguard withdrawn at the eleventh hour by the UK Government citing ‘financial privilege’.