The bedroom tax is one of those simple and understandable ideas that looked great on paper, until you start to implement it and realise it is not going to work in the way anyone hoped. The aim was to help match the size of homes within social housing to those who needed them by discouraging people to be living in properties which were too big for them, a simple concept that should have worked.
I think the central problem with this policy is the lack of one bedroom properties for people to move into especially as economically it is much better to build two and three bedroom properties which can be used by families and single people alike, to avoid issues with changing demographics. And for myself, one of the shocking decisions made on the policy was the exemption of pensioners in paying the tax, this relevantly wealthy group are the ones sitting in the bulk of under-occupied properties, who should have been given a range of incentives to downgrade as an alternative to the bedroom tax.
And then we get to the main event, disabled people versus the bedroom tax. With everything else going on, this was at best an oversight on the part of the government, which has turned the whole policy toxic, making it this government’s poll tax. It would be inaccurate to suggest that every person who defines themselves as disabled within social housing require an extra bedroom, but there are never ending examples of why a family that includes disabled adults or children would need one.
For my own situation as someone with cerebral palsy, I live in a three bedroom flat within social housing. The first bedroom is for myself, the second is for my live-in volunteering personal assistant, and the final room is my office, where I am right now as I am typing this. Being self employed, my income is not as I would like it and so I qualify for tax credits and housing benefit. While my volunteer’s room is exempt from the bedroom tax, my office is clearly not. Half of me has accepted that the office is my own choice and that’s an reason business expense, while the other half believes I work from home because I am disabled and why should I be penalised.
I think the real problem is not so much the bedroom tax, but the poor implementation and execution of Discretionary Housing Payments. Despite David Cameron, DWP guidelines, my local council guidelines and many managers in my council all confirming that there has been funding made available with a specific priority to helping disabled people with the bedroom tax, the reality is this is simply not the case.
I believed that since the payment was discretionary, it would be reflective of individual need and I imagined a points style system where my level of income over personal expenditure would score some points, and my impairment related need for an extra bedroom would also score some points, along with a whole range of other factors. Since I assumed my need would score higher than my income, I did not write down every last penny I could think of.
It was only after a confusing meeting with my council that we finally understood each other and I realised they were simply interesting in whether I was penniless before they would enquire about my actual need for an extra bedroom. I had previously been confused to why the application form had not been asking me about my disability or my need for a bedroom. Because I was self-employed they were wanting to know everything about everything which they were making value judgements upon despite claiming they were not. In the end, I decided for my own sanity, it was easier to simply pay the tax!
While the recent court case on disabled people and the bedroom tax suggested people should put their faith in Discretionary Housing Payments, I do not feel it is working. I also believe the additional administrative costs associated to the bedroom tax is wiping out any benefits that the government could attribute to it.
In summary, the bedroom tax is in a mess and it is very clear to see. I am however not sure what the solutions are. The issue of disability needs to be taken out of the equation and I would suggest as a quick solutions would be to exempt people receiving the care component of DLA/PIP, as well as mandating all councils to take actual physical need into account in terms of Discretionary Housing Payments. As the election gets closer, it will be interesting see if this government will flinches on what is a very unpopular policy.