Liberal Democrat Party Headquarters has issued the following Q&A, following Andrew George MP's success in the House of Commons yesterday. His "Affordable Homes Bill" has cleared the major hurdle of a Second Reading, which means it can go on to detailed consideration in committee. Among other things, the Bill would practically abolish the iniquities of the coalition's Removal of the Spare Room Subsidy, the so-called Bedroom Tax. Mr George's Private Members Bill has the support of the Labour Opposition as well as the parliamentary Liberal Party.
Why are you doing this now?
We have been monitoring the introduction of the policy carefully. The results of the interim evaluation have now been published and they show some concerning findings such as that 57% of claimants reported cutting back on household essentials. We have protected the vulnerable so far but we now want to reform the policy to protect those people for the long term.
Why haven’t you implemented these changes in government?
We have protected vulnerable groups by providing hard cash for hard cases – £180m in Discretionary Housing Payments last year – not all of which has been spent by councils. We have been monitoring the introduction of the policy carefully and have recently received the interim results of the initial evaluation of the policy. These show that the policy has had an impact on disabled people who need a spare bedroom and we want to ensure that these people are exempted. We also want to ensure that those who have tried to downsize but have not been able to are not penalised. We will make the case to our coalition partners that the policy needs to be reformed.
The Tories don’t agree with you do they?
We will continue to make the case to our coalition partners that the policy needs to be reformed. If we do not reach agreement in this parliament we will commit to these reforms in our manifesto.
What about other groups who are affected (e.g. parents who don’t live with their children but have them to visit regularly)
There would still be a (more limited) pot of Discretionary Housing Payments available for hard cash to cover hard cases. It is already the case, however, that private sector tenants have to pay for a spare bedroom in this circumstance.
Not all disabled people will be covered by your policy?
We are exempting those disabled people who need a spare bedroom or those who live in specially adapted properties. Not all disabled people will need a spare bedroom. We will consult on the detailed guidance.
What about all the other housing benefit reforms? This change doesn’t go far enough.
Between 2000 and 2010 expenditure on Housing Benefit grew by around 50% in real terms. This is clearly unsustainable, particularly at a time when we need to reduce the deficit and build a stronger economy. That is why we have made reforms to the housing benefit system, but it is also why we are working to build more affordable homes. There are also still Discretionary Housing Payments available for vulnerable people.
You are penalising housing associations who can’t build more houses. That isn’t fair, and will mean that they have less funding to build more houses in future.
We recognise it is not fair for people to have a reduction in their housing benefit if they have tried to downsize but have not been offered an alternative property. We believe there needs to be a small incentive on housing associations and local authorities to offer people reasonable alternative accommodation, including encourage people to downsize in order to free up homes for those on housing waiting lists or those living in overcrowded accommodation. This will also be an incentive to look at ways some local authorities have tackled the problem. This includes opportunities to convert larger properties or to encourage house swaps or ‘rent a room’ schemes, which help to prevent homelessness, and encourage people to think about options for getting extra income.