Bedroom Tax – Downsizing is like marriage, do it in haste and repent at your leisure!

The vast majority of social tenants who may be thinking of downsizing are in fact not thinking at all as outside of downsizing to a social housing property AND in the near neighbourhood the idea is a truly stupid one, a truly, truly, truly, truly, truly stupid one – ok reader you get where this is going!

Downsizing hasn’t ever be challenged or discussed for what it is or put as I do here …Why would any social tenant in their right minds even contemplate this ridiculous idea in the first place?

The patronising bit and there are 3 main options for the under occupying social tenant:

  1. Move to a smaller property in the private rented sector
  2. Move to a smaller property in the social housing sector
  3. Stay and receive less in Housing Benefit

1. Move to a private rented property?

The ONLY apparent rationale for this is financial to avoid the reduction in housing benefit, the bedroom TAX, and perhaps slightly cheaper heating bills.  Yet what is to stop your new private landlord increasing your rent by £20 per week?  The answer is absolutely nothing and if you don’t like it tough you either pay it or move again.  What is to stop your private landlord evicting you for any reason he so chooses?  Nothing and the law allows this very quickly and just a matter of a few months.

These are the real issues and not how much it will cost to move or what will you do about storage space or any other social impact this would have on your life: If a new private landlord can increase your rent or evict you for any reason at the drop of a hat, which they can, where you store your vacuum cleaner is of no bloody consequence is it?

Any social tenant who is thinking of this option needs their bumps read! I need not explain the many other disadvantages of such an option and there are many! Yet perhaps the simplest way to look at this is if privately renting is such as good idea or not a bad idea as the government claim, then why have the 259,000 social housing households who are overcrowded not simply moved from a 2 bed council house to a 3 bed private property? Think on that one and its only because it must be a bad choice.  These are social tenants who are NOT being coerced to move, unlike the bedroom tax tenant, who can consider this option at their leisure, unlike the bedroom tax tenant, yet have chosen after such careful consideration and no risk of a tax or financial hit to remain in social housing!

2. Move to a smaller social housing property?

This in any semblance of logic or reasoning is the ONLY moving choice.  Yet as we know and as was known by all and sundry including the government before the bedroom tax was introduced the smaller social housing properties do not exist.

Even on the small chance smaller social housing properties exist would it make sense? No has to be the answer to that question for a number of reasons.

In financial terms what about your moving costs which are all additional and were not needed or contemplated before the bedroom tax was imposed?  If the bedroom tax average charge is £14 per week and it costs you initially £2000 to move – boxes, packing tape, other packing materials, removal costs and all other costs of moving such as new provisions needed at new property or disposing of goods at current one you can’t take with you and so many more incidental costs – then it surely makes sense to consider the new property very carefully.

All moves even the friend you know that has a transit van to effect the move with 5 or 6 repeated journeys to and from the old to the new property has these unforeseen costs and if you need to get a telephone connected or a plumber in for the washing machine and / or dishwasher or to fit your old shower unit or install a new one….

Yet because of the scarcity and the fact that smaller social properties are as rare as hen’s teeth you don’t have that ‘luxury’ of being able to consider the full implication of a house move.  You will end up spending far more than you thought (and how many social tenants have £2000+ just sitting there to pay for such a move!!!) …and a house move is stressful as hell too!

Would it not be better, even in financial terms, to stay and suffer the bedroom tax deduction?

3. Stay?

For you as the tenant yes this makes sense even in financial terms.  As I say above do you have a spare few thousand pounds to pay for the move?  If so that’s 3 years or more worth of bedroom tax make up payments so why go through all the stress of moving?  You also have cost of money issues as this £2000 or so I use here is spent immediately if you move, but over 3 years if you stay (assuming you pay the bedroom tax make-up).

Yes it will be bloody hard financially if you do stay and have to pay but is it any cheaper to move to a smaller property?  A new social housing property is typically not furnished so what if you carpets don’t fit or your settees  won’t or the new property doesn’t have a telephone landline or is not in a cable area or doesn’t have the space for your dishwasher, cooker and separate washing machine and dryer?  All fundamental and bloody obvious matters which have a cost factor as well as a stress factor.

However one key point that I have never seen discussed before is the social landlord dimension to all of this. If you stay and are hit by the bedroom tax you as the tenant become a financial risk of arrears to the landlord.  If you move you do not.

There is a huge potential for a conflict of interest by the social landlord in them discussing with you the options isn’t there? If they advise you to move they benefit in other words.

That is not a slur on social landlords in general or any one of them in particular; rather it is a simple point of fact.  Yet, as I have argued previously there is no independent advice that a tenant can get if they are contemplating moving and that frankly stinks!  A move at any time is stressful as hell let alone a ‘forced’ move and a quick move - like marriage you move in haste and repent at your leisure on this life-changing measure.

The changes to the financial implications for tenants of taking in (non-stranger) lodgers from October when Universal Credit hits which I discussed here are beginning to make much more sense.  The applicability of whether the bedroom tax will apply to many after the many legal challenges have been decided is another issue to factor into the financial consideration of staying and paying.  Further if you carefully read my post on bedroom tax arrears and what extremely limited options a social landlord has should the tenant not pay and why the courts are unlikely to evict for bedroom tax arrears only, and if they do the strong steer that your local council will have to re-house you, the intentionality issue, should all be considered when decided whether to move or stay.

Yet the specific point of the social landlord dimension and why a tenant with a bedroom tax deduction is a threat was heightened in my mind after the threatening letter sent by One Vision Housing to its tenants recently.  This alleged disclaimer letter which while of no legal consequence whatsoever, frightened the vulnerable social tenant and made the social landlord dimension much clearer and it can’t be simply dismissed as just the one bad apple syndrome.

All social tenants faced with the bedroom tax and the life-changing decisions they throw up, and in the total absence of any independent and considered advice are VULNERABLE tenants.

The bedroom tax directly creates this vulnerability because of these issues and decisions which are taken by vulnerable people in that very stressful state about a life-changing and quickly needed decision…which also exposes just how much of a lack of any pre-thought was given to these ideas by those that imposed it…the coalition who risibly and errantly and smugly say this is FAIR!

The coalition government of course knew about the lack of smaller properties as national figures are readily available and even published by government.  They must have know that any house move incurs additional and unexpected costs that I have very briefly outlined and of course also knew the stress of moving and the huge emotional attachment we all have for our homes.  They also knew the were placing social landlords in an invidious position and a position of a potential conflict of interest and that there was nowhere, absolutely bloody nowhere, that can advise vulnerable social tenants independently over these life-changing decisions they are being forced to make.

The government call this (forced) behavioural change which is a clever way of blaming social tenants for the chronic shortage and even, disgracefully, say that because you can never tell how people will react we won’t do anything resembling an impact assessment but rather the government will only monitor the impact on vulnerable people affected by the bedroom tax over the first two years of the policy!  Aside from the suck-it-and-see nature this is truly offensive in so many areas.

How can ANY government decide on a policy and implement it without knowing what impacts it will have? That’s like jumping out of an aeroplane with a kite hoping it will break your fall and incredibly dangerous governing.  The report on this 2 year research will only report AFTER the next general election too as with all the other welfare reforms and confirmed by Steve Webb in the HoC debate last week. Of course that doesn’t and shouldn’t hold any surprises if you follow the Machiavellian intent of this government – any means to an end and their end is cost-saving nothing more nothing less regardless of how this makes vulnerable people suffer. Yet they don’t know that the bedroom tax will save money at all and is likely the bedroom tax willcost the public purse more and that also reveals how dangerous governing the bedroom tax policy is!  They also say it won’t affect social landlords but of course it will and arrears will rocket, which of course means they have less money to develop new properties so the housing shortage gets worse, and the only way they can recoup these losses is to raise rents which of course costs the government even more!!

If only a tenth of these issues were valid you would rightly call the government a bunch of chancers, yet all of them are valid and true!  But hey in political terms the government gambled on Joe Public seeing the undeserving great unwashed social tenant who is already feckless and ‘subsidised’ as being deserving of blame and of being lied about and labelled as wanting even more (Spare Room) Subsidy!  Or in lay terms fuck you scrounging tenant the average voter thinks you’re unworthy so why the fuck should we worry about shafting you! – The electorally- insignificant tenant theory if you will.

Dear social tenant, do yourself a favour and if you are even contemplating moving take 5 minutes to read this, then write down on a piece of paper the costs of moving that you know, then the possibly costs of moving that you don’t know and ask yourself why should I move as it will cost me more than if I stay?

Then by all means look at your emotional attachment to the current property, look at your familial impacts (where will my grandson or son sleep) then look at you support networks (how much further away will my son or mother or grandmother be?) and does the new area have an Asda as you can’t abide Tesco or Aldi sausages or bagels, or how you can look in on dear old Mrs Jones at the end of the street when we have a cold snap as you’re the only friend she has, or is there a Pentecostal or Methodist church or synagogue or mosque in the new area; or how much less you will see your grandson or nephew who pops in now as the local Scout group or football team he trains with is just around the corner, or indeed how your health will suffer as you become more socially isolated, or whether you will socially isolate yourself because it is too far to go to the bingo and you will have nobody to talk with as you do now in the new area ……etc…. then go back and look at the real costs of moving!

Downsize my arse! No, just a statement I wasn’t getting in touch with my feminine side…er..oh well now I’ve started on this chauvinistic line does getting in touch with your feminine side mean you go conveniently deaf?  No but social isolation by moving to a new area does cause presbycusis (age-related deafness) as you remove yourself from social interactions and when you do you begin to only hear 3 words in every 4 and then only 2 words in every 3 and then because your pride kicks in you socially isolate yourself even more which can then impact on your mental health and you become anxious, not least because when your friends and family come to visit they are worried about you being more isolated and you don’t want them to be worried and in fact get a bit angry of frustrated at this which in turn means they overtly and openly worry more and you become even more anxious and think….why the fuck did I ever move!

Ah the simple and rushed choices and costs of moving eh!

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7 thoughts on “Bedroom Tax – Downsizing is like marriage, do it in haste and repent at your leisure!

  1. mousegran March 9, 2013 at 3:12 pm Reply

    Very wise words, warning people against downsizing unless they have given it a great deal of though. In particular, I think that the effects on mental health that you have mentioned could be devastating for many people. These are real people’s lives that are being wrecked in the name of a half-baked reform that’s not fit for purpose – not fit for the the claimed purpose, anyway – but the Government and supporters of the bedroom tax dismiss any concerns out of hand as greedy, whinging or selfish..

    As you have pointed out elsewhere, the majority of properties are only under occupying one room anyway. I doubt if many who are fortunate enough to own their home would consider themselves to be under occupying in these circumstances or would contemplate downsizing to a one-bedroomed place ( the case of a couple) unless due to ill health.

    Speaking personally, I can say that downsizing from our tiny two-bed terrace to a one bedroom place would impact on so many aspects of our life that the very idea of it brings tears to my eyes!

  2. Alison Murphy March 10, 2013 at 2:12 pm Reply

    especially as the dreadful selfishness of having a spare room is in most cases a small boxroom only about 50 square

  3. Jonathan Wilson March 10, 2013 at 3:15 pm Reply

    And now to add insult upon injury they are also saying that because of the wording of the HA-1985 councils are being told/informed that they should also consider counting living rooms, dining rooms, and parlors as “bedrooms” and as such a 2 bed flat should/could be considered as a 3 bed flat, or a 3 bed house with a dining room, front & back living room, parlor room could/should/must be classed as a 7 bed house.

    Seriously WTF!

    I wonder how many of the 250,000 “overcrowded” properties are not if this was applied to all of them… imagine a family of 6, 2 parents – 4 children, living in a 3 bed house being told that they had 3 spare bedrooms once the rooms down stairs were included.

    Actually Joe, can you point me to the documentation that shows what criteria are used to calculate overcrowded, is it the exact same formula used to calculate possible occupancy using section 1985/2004 table 1 and table 2 combined, or does it excluded rooms “not used normally as a bedroom” or some such metric?

    • joehalewood March 10, 2013 at 3:53 pm Reply

      Its the same 1985 Act.

      A second point is that if you have say a 3 bed with 2 living rooms and your tenancy says its a 3 bed, then how can the landlord tell HB it is a 4 bed? Yet that can potentially happen as it also needs to be viewed using the Rent Officer Handbook which says and I have quoted a few times:

      (see Deciding what constitutes a room / bedroom): – (http://www.voa.gov.uk/corporate/Publications/index.html)

      “Under the Housing Benefit Scheme, rent officers treat bedrooms and rooms suitable for living interchangeably, Local Reference Rents are based on total number of habitable rooms (bedrooms and living rooms, but including dining rooms, some conservatories and living kitchens. Under the Local Housing Allowance Scheme, the LHA is based on numbers of bedrooms alone”

      For the social tenant every room (dining rooms, conservatories etc) is treated as a potential bedroom for assessing the bedroom tax; yet in private rented only bedrooms are considered for the payment of LHA (the private sector version of housing benefit)

      More simply, the more rooms that can be deemed a potential bedroom the more likely the bedroom tax will apply!! In short the private tenant is treated MORE FAVOURABLY in terms of housing for benefit purposes than a social tenant!

      This is blatant discrimination and wide open to legal challenge

  4. Jonathan Wilson March 10, 2013 at 4:04 pm Reply

    Thanks for that Joe, wasn’t sure the exact metrics used in calculating the overcrowded figures.

    And yes, I agree there is a whole world of difference between waht is counted as a “bedroom” and what is not between LHA and HB.

  5. Michele Witchy Eve March 11, 2013 at 1:16 am Reply

    There is nothing in the factual side of your article that I don’t agree with and you’ve stated the cases better then most. However, the following points are also highly relevant.

    1. The goverment itself does not plan for anyone to move. They are banking on this ‘rock and hard place’ senario to keep people in their homes and paying the extra tax on those spare rooms. If people move it ruins the whole plan of where the money will come from to pay for the latest tax cut for top earners. So they really, really don’t want anyone to move, just to pay the ‘subsidy’.

    2. It does sound logical to say that instead of spending £2000 moving you pay the bedroom tax instead for two years. What happens after those two years? Where is the logic then or is there a vague hope that a new government will end the bedroom tax? Not a hope to be banked on if previous governments continuing with their political opposites policies are anything to go by. And wages are unlikely to increase as fast as the cost of living and benefits will not improve and are most likely to get less. So what sounds sensible for two years begins to sound like serious trouble beyond that.

    3. The statement above becomes irrelevant as the vast majority of people simply can’t afford to move anymore then they can afford to stay and pay and will no doubt lead to people getting into serious debt whichever way they opt to deal with this crisis.

    4. Social Housing landlords won’t just see their rents accounts in arrears by a significant proportion but they will also have the banks breathing very heavily down their necks to do something to deal with those arrears to satisfy their loan repayments (PFI and other nifty little financial arrangements abound behind the scenes). Do not be surprised if we see Housing Associations in harder hit areas going into administration and/or folding completely. Many councils have long since sold all their government owned stock either to Housing Associations or through the buy-to-let scheme, so a significat fall in social housing generally is likely under the present situation. Relying on new build is not an option. Much new build is classed as ‘affordable’ but this is not the same as affordable in the sense of social housing, or in enough numbers to make any appreciable difference.

    Your government needs you to stay and pay.

  6. Curo Tenant June 27, 2013 at 4:23 pm Reply

    Downsizing to the extreme.

    Is this what my social landlord has in store for some of us?

    https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/7M8hYXkfl9wLEDsN-ySlVtMTjNZETYmyPJy0liipFm0?feat=directlink

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