Stopping the bedroom tax: a small practical proposal
A couple of years ago I argued that the most effective way for councils to protect people from the comming barrage of cuts might be to think tangentially about legal amd administrative loopholes and forms of civic disobedience.
It occurs to me that an opportunity for same may present itself with the ‘bedroom tax’, due to come into effect in April 2013 (extended to students’ bedroom in parental houses in September 2013) and affect around 600,000 people.
I’m no longer a housing expert, havimg moved toward education, health, economics and cross-country but I wonder if anyone who is expert can tell me why cuts fighting-minded councils (and social landlords) couldn’t do this:
1) Identify all household at risk of the bedroom tax’
2) Reclassify any ‘superfluous’ bedrooms as big storage cupboards, and adjust the housing cotract accordingly
3) Charge, say, a £1 per week service charge for this (supposedly) ongoing service of reclassification, but thereby save households a great deal more now that they officially have less bedrooms, and therefore cannot have their housing beenfit reduced. (The law does not allow for a simple rent increase as percentage increases are set by government in September, and there is an ongoing process of ‘equalisation’ between social landlord and council rents).
4) Stick two fingers in the air at the goverment when they complain, saying that it’s all within the law so they can fuck right off. And anyway, it’s localism, so they can fuck right off a bit more.
Why wouldn’t this work? Would another step of physically knocking through bedroons to make bigger ones be needed, if a simple reclassification of existing space didn’t work? If so, could councils start up job creation schemes for people to knock out walls and then put them back in again if people move, paid for from the weekly service charge over , say, a year (opk, it’d probably need to be more than £1 in that case. Personally, I’d go and joing rooms together for free if a) that got up the government’s nose; b) was not out of keeping with the job creation potential.
Answers why this isn’t possible, to be on my blog desk by 5pm tomorrow please. Andy, yes, I’ve seen this warning but does it really have teeth? Would it really spoil the loans if there was some element of solidarity? After all, institutions makes loans to make profit, and if reclassification were kept ‘dynamic’ via the small service charge, there would be no real risk oof lowered rental income.
Update: A twitter to-and-for with Oxford housing expert @antoniabance suggests that the real/perceived obstacle is indeed the fact that rent take assumptions underpin most debt servicing, and in Oxford’s case the laudable plans for 500 new rented homes. Antonia says “if you’ve said a two-bed is a one-bed, it attracts less rent, not the same rent……”.
Of course I get that that, but surely if a single person is already in a two bed place they’re already paying (with HB help) a two-bed rent, so nothing would change as long as the contract was modified appropriately to cope with that. Would the rent have to be reduced by the very act of reclassification? I’m still not clear why this is anything other than a systems obstacle (as opposed to a legal one), as long as a two-bed place becoming a one-bed place, for these purposes, again becomes a two-bed place when it becomes void.