The Welfare Reform Act of 2012 includes a reduction of benefits, effective from April 2013, that has prompted a surge of protest from agencies all over the UK. The ‘bedroom tax’ in question means that many thousands of social tenants will lose an average of £14 per week in benefits, and an alarming percentage of those will lose much more than that.
The Albyn Housing Society handles about 2,700 properties throughout the Highlands, and at least 300 tenant households will be adversely affected by the change. According to Isabel McLaughlin, chair of the Housing Society Board and Vice-Chair of the Inverness Milton Tenants Forum, about 30 families in Milton alone will be at risk of homelessness when the tax goes into effect because they cannot afford to pay, nor are there smaller units available for them to move into.
The tax will apply to anyone who, under the specifications of the Act, is deemed to have one or more spare bedrooms in their residence. It amounts to 14% for one one extra bedroom and 25% for two or more – adding up to as much as £700 per year. ‘Spare’ includes bedrooms for same gender children under 16, different gender up to 10, foster children, visiting children who don’t live at home full time and a few other categorical restrictions.
Albyn Housing Society CE Calum Macaulay pointed out that many tenants will fall into arrears on their rent because of the tax, which means loss of income to landlords, which leads to reduced ability on the part of the Housing Society to meet local needs. He said they count on rental income for about 95% of running costs.
The National Housing Federation says that the ‘reform’ will affect about 600,000 families across the UK, and for a large proportion of them the effect will be disastrous. NHF Chief Executive David Orr said the implications are worst for disabled people, teenagers, couples with foster children and smaller families in general.