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Room to spare means moving or benefit cut
RESIDENTS took to the streets, politicians protested in Whitehall – but nothing could stop the welfare reform which came to be labelled the bedroom tax.
In April, the Government cut the amount of benefit people could get if they were deemed to have a spare bedroom in their council or housing association home.
The policy meant council tenants lost between 14 and 25 per cent of their housing benefit if were seen to have spare rooms in their homes.
Now Oxford City Council is expected to ratify plans to bring its housing allocations policy in line with the Government’s social sector size criteria.
It means children of different sexes could have to share a room until they are 10, and children of the same sex could have to share up to the age of 16.
The Government has argued that the policy will make better use of unused space in homes, but opponents have argued it will hit large families. As a result, people on benefits have had to budget, and some, such as Banbury single sum Tamsyn Moth, have been forced to move to a smaller home.
Miss Moth said she and her children Madison, six, and Harper, three, moved in April just before the changes came in. The 40-year-old downsized from her three-bedroom home in Bretch Hill to a two-bedroom home in Thornbury Place.
She said: “We took part in an exchange, but really were forced to move, and you feel really up in the air about it.
“Labour have said if they are the new Government they will scrap it, does that mean we all get to move back?
“That is why I won’t vote to be honest — they are all full of hot air, making promises that they won’t be able to keep.
“There are definitely people worse off than us though, we are further away from school but it has been easier to get around.”
Miss Moth said the demands of childcare prevented her working full-time, but by working part-time she would suffer, and applied for housing benefit to cover her £105-a-week rent.
For Darren Belcher and his family, the bedroom tax became a harsh reality when his benefits were cut because he refused to move to a smaller home. Mr Belcher lives in Blackbird Leys with his wife Rachael and four children Kaya, 12, Charlotte, 11, Misty-Lee, nine and Darren, seven.
Under the bedroom tax legislation, Kaya and Charlotte should be sharing a room, as should Misty-Lee and Darren. But they refused to move to a smaller home, and had their housing benefit cut by 25 per cent because the Government considers that two of their bedrooms are spare.
Mr Belcher, 46, said: “I don’t believe girls and boys should have to share when they get to that age.
“Two of them are coming up to teenagers, they shouldn’t have to share a room.
“The council can’t do anything about it; it’s the Government’s fault, but I’ve had it with the lot of them anyway.”
Oxford’s housing boss admitted facing a “moral dilemma” in forcing children of new council tenants to share rooms until they’re well into their teens.
City executive member for housing Scott Seamons, has admitted the Government’s removal of its spare room subsidy has forced the council’s hand. The council’s current policy says only children of mixed gender under the age of seven have to share a room.
Labour city councillor Mr Seamons said: “The moral dilemma for us is that we would be unwilling to place people in properties they would be unable to afford as a result of the bedroom tax.
“But at the same time, we don’t agree with the position the Government is taking.
“When they get to nine or 10 years old, kids can be going through puberty, and we don’t think it’s acceptable that children of different sexes should have to share a room at that age.”
Rose Hill and Donnington Advice Centre boss Carole Roberts said she was worried about the impact the policy would have.
She said: “If you’ve got children under the age of 10 you will usually only be allocated a two-bedroom house, but what happens when those children get over the age of 10, when they deserve their own rooms, but there aren’t any available?
“I understand the council has to go along with the Government, but I think the whole thing is stupid.
“It’s just going to lead to families being more cramped.”
The council will also close its housing waiting list to people without a local link to Oxford, but Mr Seamons said this was just an extension of existing policies.
He said: “In the past we have always prioritised those with a local connection anyway. All we are doing is restricting the register.
“By allowing people who didn’t live in Oxford onto the list originally didn’t mean they had much of a chance of getting housed here anyway because the list is so long.”
Concerns about the overall impact of the bedroom tax have been raised by academics and people affected by the change.
Fran Bennett, a senior research fellow with Oxford Institute of Social Policy in the university’s Department of Social Policy and Intervention, said: “The council is in a really difficult position because of the policy itself, and it’s quite difficult to see what they can do about it.
“I think the way in which the Government is tackling the deficit is particularly affecting low-income families and those with children, and this is partly to do with welfare reform.”
She also raised concerns that benefits claimants would increasingly rely on “discretionary housing payments” to fill the gap between their benefits and high rents in the private sector.
Matthew Barber, Conservative leader of the Vale of White Horse District Council, said: “Yes, I do think it (the bedroom tax) is fair.
“In a lot of places like the Vale there is a huge pressure on the amount of housing stock available and the simple fact is there are people who can move to more appropriate properties which will in turn benefit everyone.
“We have found in the Vale that a number of people have downsized to somewhere more appropriate and it has worked for them.
“I don’t think it will lose us votes; polling has showed that the majority of people are in favour of what the Government is doing with welfare reform.”
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