I am a cynical bugger which means I look at things from a cui bono perspective – who benefits or whats in it for me in other words. I don’t mean me personally I mean all of the actors involved and so in the bedroom tax debate that means tenant, landlord and government.
Take advice as an example, advice on the bedroom tax I mean. There’s next to none from the government, the same from tenant groups and a bit more from the landlord yet none of it is complete and a lot of it is wrong.
For example we hear stories of tenants who have been in their social housing homes for 20 or 30 years and the kids they raised have flown the coop leaving mum and dad alone in a 3 bed house who will be told to (a) downsize or (b) suffer the 25% bedroom tax deduction. Yet how many of them have been advised to look at their right to buy from their landlord?
Before I go on with this line of argument I despise the right to buy (RTB) as this is what has seen over 2 million social housing properties taken out of the social housing capacity and it is easy, and correct, to make a causal link between RTB sales and the chronic national shortage of available social housing. We even had the rabid right-wing Tory Peter Hitchens say on BBC Question Time this week that RTB was and is a disaster. Peter Hitchens admitting Thatcher was wrong is like….oh well you get the picture!
The reason I raise RTB here is in terms of being advised, tenants being advised of their options to be precise and whether a social landlord would or indeed has advised the bedroom tax affected social tenant of their RTB options. The bedroom tax is causing great anxiety amongst social tenants affected and to move house is a life-changing decision yet in one respect the landlords who are advising them of options have a conflict of interest in this dimension. The social landlord obviously doesn’t want to lose its properties through the RTB yet they are in a position, fostered on them by government who do want the RTB, of a potential conflict of interest.
I am NOT saying, for the avoidance of any doubt, that I suspect or know that social landlords are or have been acting improperly; rather I am just highlighting a potential significant conflict of interest.
Moving house IS a massive decision for anyone and one that should ONLY be undertaken after receiving full and impartial advice yet there is a deficit of impartial advice and advisors around. Just who do you turn to if you are bedroom tax affected tenant?
Further, it is not just the bedroom tax and advice has to include all the other welfare reforms due to this year too. The loss of council tax benefit, the overall benefit cap, the payment of Housing benefit from weekly to monthly and being paid direct and Universal Credit. The bedroom tax is not being imposed in a vacuum and so many other changes will occur this year that will impact on any decision to move or stay. Who is advising on this? Where does a tenant go to find out? Just how can a social tenant affected by the bedroom tax get full and impartial advice?
I suggest the answer to that last question is nowhere and the social tenant cannot be adequately advised by anyone…yet they have to make a life-changing decision with firstly the bedroom tax and then so many other ‘reforms’ due this year.
Moreover, many of the ‘reforms’ due this year including the bedroom tax are not yet finalised as to how they will work and affect the social tenant. We see the government allegedly looking again at the disabled (which will not happen) and especially they will be looking again at how the mixed-age pensioner couple will be affected – which will happen and I strongly suspect is already happening without the public pronouncement of this that the ‘disability’ question has had on the BBC this week. The government won’t define what is a bedroom for fecks sake and also won’t define who is ‘vulnerable’ in Universal Credit – as they hadn’t thought of that. Just as they hadn’t thought of literally scores of other aspects and impacts of the ‘reforms.’
If I downsize as a secure tenant why are only introductory tenancies the ones on offer? Will I lose my right to buy? – These are just two questions raised on one of the Facebook pages this morning that caught my eye and this came directly after a post saying the DWP has confirmed the bedroom tax won’t affect the mixed-age pensioner couple which it will. What we have with the bedroom tax is a chronic level of misinformation and assumptions – ALL ABOUT A LIFE-CHANGING DECISION!!
I read the Universal Credit regulations this week and a clause on notional income caught my eye. The government is going to assume the claimant gets all the benefits they are entitled to and pay Universal Credit – which in overview replaces almost all benefits – on the basis that all other benefits are paid. Yet we see reports that £3bn of Pension Credit is unclaimed and £6.7bn of Housing Benefit is and also £8.4bn of working tax / child tax credit is unclaimed. So if there is one piece of advice all tenants and all of the general public can and should receive it is make sure you claim all of the benefits you are entitled to – and as it happens if you google “entitledto” you will find a benefit calculator that does that for you. In the simple sentence above I have said there are £18,000 million of eligible and due welfare benefits that are not claimed. You don’t get benefits or tax credits if you are not entitled to them so claim them. £18,000 million (£18bn) – compare that to the claimed £480m bedroom tax deduction! You are not a scrounger if you claim benefits you are ENTITLED TO!!!!
This brings me back to the tenant being advised. The government rationale for the bedroom tax is you are NOT ENTITLED to benefit for a spare bedroom (however the hell they define that!) Yet you ARE ENTITLED TO a huge array of benefits that you do not currently claim. So get out and claim them.
Of course the government are relying on you NOT to do that as it will cost them an arm and a leg and BILLIONS extra per year. The government wants it cake to eat as it wants to castigate and blame the benefit claimant for being feckless or lazy – a policy of where there’s a claim, there’s a blame!
You are already being blamed so get off you lazy benefit-scrounging arses and claim what you ARE entitled to. (I never thought I would write that line!!) Who knows? Maybe the extra income you get will enable you to sit back and think or even buy some financial advice on the life-changing decisions you will have to make this year? Not that anyone can even sell you that advice as nobody knows what the hell is going to happen and especially the government – so it may buy you some breathing space if nothing else.
PS – Did you know this government ran a consultation this year saying they should stop releasing the amount of benefits that go unclaimed? True! Thankfully they were overwhelmed with responses saying dont do this and they backed down. There is billions of YOUR MONEY out there people, go claim it you’re a scrounger anyway!