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Concern mounts over spare bedroom tax

As Britain hovers on the verge of a triple dip recession and the poor take the brunt of George Osborne’s much vaunted austerity program, concern is building around the introduction of the so called ‘spare bedroom tax’

The idea is that people living in social housing who have a ‘spare’ bedroom will their housing benefit claims reduced by about £40 to £80 a month from this April. The government is pressing the case that the move it will tackle ‘under occupancy’ and encourage ‘mobility’ while discreetly raising the tabloid spectre of ‘scroungers living in mansions’

There are however a few glaring flaws in their plan. Housing associations and people working on the front lines of social housing point out that until there are ‘spacially appropriate’ properties for people to downgrade to – something that is in short supply – all the plan will actually do is impoverish the poor even further. The plan stands to affect 600,000 people.

The 13 week barrier for an unoccupied bedroom will obviously affect any members of the armed forces who are not in a couple as their postings last a lot longer than 13 weeks. There are no exemptions for divorced parents – only one half of the couple is allowed extra rooms, so forget dad having the kids on weekends. No exceptions for foster carers in between children, no exemption for people with disabilities who may need an extra bit of space – just a heavy handed crackdown on the old Tory favourite – benefits.

And it seems that how the government see this playing out – is either a mythical revolution in sudden downsizing (unlikely with a huge social housing shortage), a subsidised move into the more expensive private sector, or a sudden flood of lodgers (often on benefits themselves) being rented rooms.

Will the costs of trying to monitor ‘bedroom usage’ outweigh any savings. And just how invasive does such a monitoring regime sound? No doubt the government needs to save money – but how about a nicely invasive monitoring regime on systematic tax avoiders rather than struggling families.

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