Social housing tenants living in Wales have been ‘hardest hit’ by the Government’s hated ‘bedroom tax’, new research reveals.
Research published by the Wales Audit Office (WAO), reveals how the bedroom tax has affected a greater number of social housing tenants in Wales than those living in England or Scotland.
20.4% of social housing tenants in Wales have been impacted by the bedroom tax, compared to 15.3% in England and 19% in Scotland.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) estimates savings from the bedroom tax, or spare room subsidy, to be in the region of £490 million. £26 million of this coming from affected households in Wales. But the WAO says the true savings figures cannot be forecast accurately.
The WAO says the cruel bedroom tax is increasing poverty among Welsh social housing tenants, who have seen their Housing Benefit payments slashed by up to 25%.
Housing Benefit and debt advice now accounts for a large proportion of requests for urgent advice, says the WAO. But Wales has seen a ‘significant reduction’ in the number of independent housing advice services.
Many of the poorest social housing tenants are also ‘digitally excluded’ from important online services, the report says. 39% of tenants interviewed by the WAO said they didn’t have a computer.
While the number of tenants affected by the bedroom tax has fallen to 14% in 2013/14, the numbers helped by local authorities is expected to decline.
Efforts to mitigate the effect of the bedroom tax by councils and housing associations on some of the poorest households in Wales are having ‘little effect’, the report says.
All councils have plans in place to help mitigate the impact of bedroom tax and other welfare changes. However, the report says the actions of some councils in Wales are ‘not comprehensive’.
68% of tenants interviewed for the report said they had not received any help from their local authority.
Government funding for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs), used to help tenants struggling to keep up with rent payments, increased by £5.1 million in 2013-14. But the WAO says allocation and distribution of these funds by local authorities have ‘significant inconsistencies and weaknesses’.
Findings from the report also suggest the bedroom tax is not encouraging most people to downsize. Only 14% of tenants have transferred to a smaller property, while the majority have chosen to stay in their homes and take a hit on their Housing Benefit.
There has only been limited use of the private housing sector by councils and housing associations to rehouse tenants, because the majority of bedroom tax victims do not want to rent in the more expensive private housing sector.
According to the report, there is increased demand for smaller properties in Wales as a result of the bedroom tax. But a shortage in available social housing properties means tenants who would agree to downsize cannot do so.
Social housing landlords told the WAO rent arrears have increased by £5.3 million, with the total number of tenants struggling to keep up with their rent up 23% between April to October 2013.
The WAO says councils should do more to convert larger properties into smaller homes.
However, landlords said managing homes left empty in the wake of bedroom tax requires a significant level of investment. Fear of being hit by housing benefit cuts at a later date has resulted in many families refusing to rent larger properties.
50% of Welsh councils said demand for temporary accommodation has increased.
And while there hasn’t been an increase in homelessness acceptances, 41% of councils said homeless people are having to wait longer for temporary housing.