Cllr. Mike Haywood: It’s official, the Bedroom Tax in Swale has failed

Few people will be in any doubt that Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems’ claim to have seen the light and admit the Bedroom Tax has been a big mistake is little more than a gimmick designed to win back support a year before the next General Election.

The Bedroom Tax was dropped from on high by the Coalition Government in 2012. Few have been exempt from it – those being the most severely disabled and the old – unlike the reforms of the private rented sector introduced by Labour which were not applied in such a retrospective way. Interestingly, research at the time showed the disaster that would follow should an attempt be made to free up affordable housing using such a blunt instrument– research which Nick Clegg and the Coalition chose to ignore.

Here in Swale, the local Council sold its homes in 1990 to Swale Housing Association which metamorphosed into AMICUS HORIZON. Today 7,000 of the least well-off families in the borough rent properties from them. Of these around 1,000, or 1 in 7, have been affected by the Bedroom Tax. They have been forced to pay anything between 15% and 25% higher rents for the past two years regardless of their ability to pay by virtue of having a spare bedroom.

Locally, of 253 families who had applied to ‘downsize’ at the beginning of the year, only 40 had been able to transfer to another property – just 1 in 5. Latest figures released to us show that since the Council changed its housing allocation policy in May – restricting it to people who have lived in the borough for at least 4 out of the
last 5 years – only 14 more families have moved.

We know from the Housing Benefit Department at Swale Borough Council that many families have decided to ‘stick it and stay’ rather than face being uprooted from homes they have lived in for years. Some have gone on to apply for a Discrepancy Housing Payment in the hope that it will bridge their income gap. Many others, who were in debt in the first place, have simply got further into debt hoping the day the bailiff turns up never arrives.

The Bedroom Tax has failed residents in Swale. It has impoverished those it has targeted, and it has cost taxpayers a fortune. It has done nothing to ease demand for affordable housing which is the crux of the issue.

Nick Clegg and the Lib Dem’s claim not to have foreseen the crisis doesn’t hold water. The research carried out a decade ago was there for all to see. They chose to ignore it. The time has come for the bailiffs to call time on them.

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