Renters forced into downsizing by the bedroom tax will have nowhere to go

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Powered by article titled “Renters forced into downsizing by the bedroom tax will have nowhere to go” was written by Penny Anderson, for on Friday 22nd February 2013 08.30 UTC

Fears about the incoming bedroom tax are growing, along with speculation about the likely consequences. Some tenants might stay but not pay the difference between their local housing allowance and their actual rent. They face eviction when discretionary housing payments, limited to six months, run out in October. Mass evictions due to arrears seem certain. Government advice for tenants with a “spare” room is ill-informed or callous. Suggesting part-time workers do a few more hours work to cover costs is deluded when an extra 63 hours are required in certain circumstances .

Tenants might attempt to downsize, which isn’t easy, not just because moving is expensive (van hire to pay for, deposits to find etc). No: there is another glaring problem. Private developers build – and control – most newbuild one and two bedroom flats.

I used to live in one such flat, which I named dovecots (elsewhere – Euroboxes, or more rudely twat-flats). They were built in every city, aimed at a desirable, and perhaps mythical societal group: renting young professionals, not yet owner-occupiers. Some newbuilds often had comedy aspirational names – something unconvincingly edgy, such as “The Edge”.

Private landlords everywhere are reluctant to house claimants, indeed some are forbidden to do so by mortgage providers and insurers citing an unsubstantiated increased risk of default and vandalism. But why did private developers build those smaller flats?

Steve Turner, speaking for the National Federation of Housebuilders, told me: “The private sector must build what is viable.” Developers claim the high cost of land compels them to cram as many units as possible into vacant plots, if they are to maximise profits. This explains their love of low-rise intensive developments.

Private-sector rents far exceed those of social housing, so anyone who could move into a small newbuild will ultimately add to the benefit bill. But these flats are often unsuitable for children, being far from schools, nurseries and health centres. Childless, claiming tenants (often in work, remember) might be able to relocate to a one-bed within their benefit limit. But if they subsequently have children, they might then rejoin the queue for social housing, needing (and being entitled to) a separate room for their baby. They could wait for about 50 years. And around we go.

Meanwhile the social housing sector is, through no fault of its own, unable to cater for changing demographics, reflected by the lack of one-bed homes fit for new archetypes such as empty-nesters, divorced-dads and vulnerable singletons. Even disabled tenants who have paid for special adaptations are affected (and if there’s one thing the private-rental sector avoids more than claimants, it’s disabled claimants).

Gill Payne, director of campaigns and neighbourhoods for the National Housing Federation, explains that housing associations don’t have enough smaller homes available to house the 660,000 people across the country who will be affected by the bedroom tax:

“For decades, housing associations have been encouraged to build bigger family homes so that families settle in one home for their entire lifetime, creating happy and stable communities. Now the housing policy has changed and those very same residents are being penalised.”

Social housing providers could buy some of these empty newbuilds and cut their waiting lists. Unfortunately, thousands of these developers’ flats were declared unsuitable for social housing because they were notorious for shoddy building standards, raising the question: who passed them as fit for habitation in the first place?

I am currently writing a PhD proposal about life in private rented housing developments: why tenants stay, why they leave, who they are and what they need. My research may confirm that some residents cling to their rare, one-bed social housing flats because newbuilds lack storage. Cupboards were eliminated by “value consultants” employed by developers to cut costs. They also omitted fripperies such as lounge doors.

And so a cliche looms: the dreaded “perfect storm”, where tenants with nowhere to move, rejected by the claimant-averse private sector, face eviction. Where will they live?

This will end very badly indeed. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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  • Keith Povall

    Of course this isn't about making available under occupied properties. If it was, there would have been a mechanism in place to help those willing to downsize, there isn't. Also, councils are no longer legally bound to house homeless people (strange coincidence that eh) ? And it is for certain that the 1 million spare bedrooms mentioned by Gove, do not have 1 million smaller properties for those people to move to. Smoke and mirrors, it's about cuts and screwing over people on benefits.

  • Lynne Maguire

    Am odd kind of question perhaps, but, if you are entitled by law to a bedroom, how do they get away with renting out bedsits?

  • Bruce N Ginny

    There are (virtually) no empty 1 or 2 bed properties in the social sector. With the increased market for them in the private sector rents will rise. The difference between the rent and LHA will almost certainly be more than the bedroom tax, so even if people could afford to pay to move, find a new home etc. they would still be out of pocket, possibly more than if they stayed put and paid the tax. As benefit levels continue to fall and the poor have to start paying council tax, both for those in and out of work, the choise will not just be whether to eat or keep warm it will also be to pay rent or to go to prison (for non payment of council tax). There is one upside for those effected, in prison you won't have to worry about bedroom or council tax, food or heating. Looks like they are not only gonna need a load of new homes, they'll also need lots of new prisons.

  • Penny Ledger

    I think the bedroom tax will make moving from a house to a small flat even more unaffordable than staying put. Many flats have high management charges to cover lift maintenance and cleaning communal areas. There is also a lack of space to dry clothes, leading to condensation and mould. I read about a flat that did not even have enough ventilation for more than two people to breathe. There is a big difference between the space needs of a working couple who are out most evenings and a severely disabled person with a partner.