'The bedroom tax won't work in Liverpool' - LMH
Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Bill Payments, Universal Credit
'The bedroom tax won't work in Liverpool' - LMH
A shortage of one and two-bed social housing properties in Liverpool will result in more working age tenants being hit harder than other parts of the country under the Government’s bedroom tax, according to research by the city's biggest housing association.
Data from Liverpool Mutual Homes (LMH) shows just 23.5% of the city’s social housing stock is made up of one-bed properties with two-beds accounting for 28%. Three-bed properties make up the overwhelming majority with 42.3%.
In April, approximately 11,000 Liverpool social housing tenants will be classed by the Government as under-occupying their homes and have their housing benefit cut. Tenants claiming housing benefit with one ‘spare’ bedroom will lose 14%, while those with two or more will see a 25% cut.
Tensions are running high in the city as the introduction of the under-occupation penalty looms. Yesterday (Thursday), activists staged a bedroom tax protest at LMH's offices.
LMH says it is on the side of its tenants and has done everything it can to offer help and advice to its 3,000 working age residents likely to be affected.
According to LMH, 1,000 are deemed to be under-occupying in accordance with the Government’s criteria by two or more bedrooms so will lose 25 per cent of their housing benefit - £20-a-week in some cases.
2,000 have one ‘spare’ bedroom and will lose approximately £12 per week.
This means some households will have to find an extra £624 per year or, if they have two or more spare rooms, over £1,000 to plug the benefit gap.
Angela Forshaw, who is Director of Housing at Liverpool Mutual Homes and Chair of the Liverpool Housing Association’s Welfare Reform Group, said: “The housing stock data underlines what we have been saying since the Government first introduced the policy: the ‘bedroom tax’ won’t work in Liverpool.
“The make-up of the city’s social housing predominantly comprises of three-bed properties, many built in garden suburbs in the interwar years to allow residents to make their homes and have families.
“At LMH, half of our inherited 15,000 properties are made up of three-bedroomed properties but we have just 2,800 with two bedrooms, so downsizing everyone affected - and most don’t want to move - is impossible.
“A prime example of how limited we are is in the Clubmoor Ward where there are 750 working age families in receipt of housing benefit who the Government says are under-occupying.
“We own 2,400 properties in the area and 1,931 are three-beds but only 41 are two-bedroomed.
“Assuming most would need to stay in the area for schools, work, family and friend connections and caring commitments, there is literally nowhere for them to go.
“Even if every LMH tenant agreed to downsize it would take us up to seven years to be able to offer them suitable alternative housing and this doesn’t take into account the current waiting list or a requirement for us to accommodate urgent cases such as statutory homeless people.”
LMH is concerned it will result in tenants moving into the private rented sector, plunging many into deeper financial hardship.
And comparative rent data shows it will actually increase the Government’s welfare bill.
The average LMH rent for a two-bedroom house is £74.74 per week and £80.15 for a three-bed property.
If a tenant downsizes from an LMH-owned three-bed home to a two-bed private rented house they would receive a Local Housing Allowance payment of £109, nearly £30 more.
“It makes no sense whatsoever and has clearly not been thought through in any detail for Liverpool’s population or housing stock,” adds Angela Forshaw.
“Perversely, some tenants living in our homes - all of which are regulated, above the Decent Homes standard and feature modern, energy efficient products - will move into smaller, lower quality private properties and have to pay more rent meaning the Government’s welfare bill will actually increase.
“The Local Housing Allowance for a three-bed private sector property is £121 which is £41 more than the average rent we charge.
“The overwhelming reaction from the 3,000 tenants we have visited is one of shock and also one of terrible anxiety.
“Most people want to pay their rent and pay their way in life but they simple don’t have the financial capacity to be able to shrink their other financial commitments or debts to be able to meet the Government’s ‘bedroom tax’ shortfall.
“The majority of people who will be affected are already struggling to make ends meet and ultimately it will drive people deeper into poverty resulting in more pressure on social support service budgets.
“Many families may not realise they will be impacted by the ‘bedroom tax’.
“Our job has been not only to campaign against the policy but to campaign to make our tenants aware of what is happening.
“We have done our best to inform them so they can be prepared.
“We run digital inclusion and financial initiatives as well as offering employment, training and apprenticeship opportunities.
“We have employed two specialists to provide tenants with advice on fuel debt, budgeting, opening bank accounts, training and work opportunities, and making sure they receive the benefits they are entitled to – last year we leveraged an extra £1.2m for tenants with benefits charity RAISE.”
The image shows a map compiled by Liverpool Mutual Homes of the 'under-occupation' hotspots in the city.