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Cutting the spare room rent subsidy is fair

The latest English Housing Survey has just been published. Among the figures, it says that 7% of those renting social housing are in overcrowded properties. So are 6% of those renting privately. However, in social housing there are also 10% of homes that are under-occupied.

These termed are defined by the Bedroom Standard - "A separate bedroom is allowed for each married or cohabiting couple, any other person aged 21 or over, each pair of adolescents aged 10-20 of the same sex, and each pair of children under 10."

This means that there are 249,000 families in social housing in conditions that are acknowledged to be overcrowded. There are another 207,000 in overcrowded private rented housing - some of them will be on Housing Benefit and council housing waiting lists. At the same time we have 386,000 properties in social housing in under-occupation - where there are spare rooms.

The Government is changing the Housing Benefit rules for those in under occupation. The changes will only apply to those of working age. Where there is one spare room the Housing Benefit will be reduced by 14% - where there is more than one spare room the benefit cut is 25%. It will mean an average loss of benefit of £14.

The Labour Party and housing "charities" call this benefit cut the "Bedroom tax". That is a catchy terms which has caught on - and has no relation whatsoever to the truth.

The real tax for these spare bedrooms is paid right now - by those living elsewhere. For example a family, where the father goes out to work. His earnings are fairly low - somewhere between £15,000 and £20,000 but above the housing benefit threshold. His son and daughter are over 10 but they still have to share a bedroom. As well as paying a full market rent he is also paying tax for others to live on welfare and have a spare room.

Even with these Housing Benefit changes, council rents remain heavily subsidised. In my own borough of Hammersmith and Fulham the council rent for a five bedroom home is £140 a week - the rent for the private sector equivalent is £1,335. Elsewhere the gap is not as wide but is still significant. Private sector rent in England is an average of £164 a week compared to social housing of £83 a week.

Some of those living in properties with spare rooms may be spurred by the Housing Benefit cut to take a job so they can afford to stay. Some may choose to downsize to a smaller property and manage without spare rooms to avoid the benefit cut.

The under-occupiers who choose to move out rather than pay extra will offer relief for some of those in overcrowded accommodation - the people the Labour Party and the housing "charities" claim to care about. Ed Miliband used Prime Minister's Question Time this week to attack this change. The waiting list in Doncaster is 12,483. Not all of them will be in overcrowded homes. Not all of them will live in Ed Miliband's Doncaster North constituency. But many will.

When his constituents in overcrowded conditions come to Mr Miliband's constituency surgery and ask what he is doing to help them, how will be able to look them in the eye?


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