February 1, 2013 by Nash Riggins
Riverside Housing – one of the UK’s biggest social housing landlords – is to start charging its tenants an ‘under-occupancy’ fee from April. This is the text-book definition of kicking someone who’s already down.
The new fee, which has been dubbed the “bedroom tax”, is being viewed as an integral aspect of the UK government’s welfare reform agenda, and will penalise any family who does not adhere to the strict rules of their housing association. In the case of Riverside, this means couples, children of the same sex or any two children of a different sex and under the age of 10 are expected to share a room – or the family will incur a monthly fee. Tenants with disabilities will also be subject to pay the fine.
Not only does this tax unfairly penalise those who are already in desperate need, but it’s also penalising tenants for their landlords’ mistakes. In fact, there are simply far fewer one and two bedroom properties available to social housing tenants; therefore, a small family who is wrongly allocated a larger property cannot be justifiably punished for their housing company’s inability to produce a more efficient housing solution.
According to figures from the Department for Work and Pensions, at least 600,000 one bedroom flats will be needed to accommodate tenants currently under-occupying larger homes – yet social housing landlords currently maintain only 360,000 such properties. Meanwhile, those same landlords own 560,000 3 bedroom properties, whilst only 300,000 are actually needed.
Riverside Housing has already estimated that up to 24% of its tenants are being chased out of their properties in order to avoid the bedroom tax – and as the average waiting list for social housing schemes can often be intimidatingly-lengthy, countless families will either end up staying in their current property and be penalised for it, or end up on the streets.
The UK is already home to at least 500,000 empty properties, and with the implementation of this bedroom tax, that number will only rise. Perhaps if the Coalition is so concerned with filling every single bedroom in the country, it should start by implementing some way with which to capitalise on the nation’s shockingly large number of vacant houses – rather than pursue controversially unsympathetic legislature against squatting.
In the meantime, penalising a family for not being large enough is as counter-productive as it is harsh. If anything, the government should be taxing social landlords for failing to allocate families with cost-efficient properties. The nation’s most deprived individuals have been kicked enough – and just because they’ve been provided a low-cost housing alternative does not somehow magically transform them into a government cash cow.
Westminster has an ethical responsibility to ensure that all of its families are able to maintain a certain standard of living – instead, it’s mercilessly chasing impoverished tenants from their homes and into the streets. As economic uncertainty and high unemployment continue to plague Britain, it is vital – now more than ever – that politicians lend a helping hand to the nation’s most in need. This starts by establishing viable and cost-effective housing solutions, and throwing away any notion of penalty fees that are both self-defeating and target the wrong people. With any luck, the Coalition will acquiesce before it’s too late.