Social Housing (Under-occupancy)

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities and Local Government – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 4th February 2013.

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Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 2:30 pm, 4th February 2013

What assessment he has made of the availability of accommodation for those who downsize as a result of the new under-occupancy rules for social housing.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I am sure that the 278,000 families in overcrowded social housing will welcome the increased availability of larger homes, given that some 390,000 families under-occupy their properties by two bedrooms or more.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

According to the Department’s own impact assessment, more than 660,000 housing benefit claimants will be affected by these changes. It is ridiculous to assume that they will be able to find the money out of their own pockets, given all the other cuts that are being introduced. They will be forced to lose their homes. What assessment has the Minister made of the availability of smaller accommodation? Will those people not just be pushed into expensive private sector accommodation, meaning that the housing benefit bill will go up?

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I have already pointed out that a large number of properties are currently under-occupied. The position will be helped enormously by a policy that is identical to the one adopted by the Labour Government in respect of the payment of housing benefit in the private rented sector. We are taking the advice of the Labour party, which said a year ago that housing benefit was “simply too high” and that we needed “tough-minded” reform.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Liberal Democrat, Mid Dorset and North Poole

In the light of the expected mid-term review statement on housing, will my right hon. Friend consider the capacity of councils to borrow—for example, to facilitate the building of one and two-bedroom properties where they are so much needed by councils and arm’s length management organisations?

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

As my hon. Friend will know, as a result of changes made by this Government to deal with the borrowing pressures placed on local authorities, they have been more able to borrow. The review that we are currently undertaking will include the issues that she has raised.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Shadow Minister (Education)

According to the Government’s impact assessment, most of the under-occupied properties are in the north of England and most of the overcrowded properties are in the south. Can the Minister confirm that part of his strategy is to move Londoners in overcrowded housing to the north?

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

No, it certainly is not. Having recognised that in some parts of the country there will be problems with the introduction of this policy, the Government have provided councils with large sums of money to help them with their transitional arrangements and ensure that everyone can have a decent home over their heads—unlike the last Government, who reduced the amount of social housing by a staggering 421,000 properties.

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

Last week, the Tory deputy leader of Cheshire West and Chester council wrote to Ministers outlining the consequences of this policy. Can the Minister now tell him and us: where are the homes for families deemed to be over-occupying because they have a special room for a disabled child? Where are the homes for foster carers who are deemed to be over-occupying because they keep a spare room for emergency placements? Where are the homes for families who have a son or daughter in the armed forces who are deemed to be over-occupying because they keep a spare room for when those people are on leave? The Minister knows that the homes are not there, so why does he not abandon this vindictive policy?

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The Government are well aware of these issues, which is why we made an additional £25 million available to help in relation to the disabled people the hon. Lady talks about, and it is why we have made an additional £5 million available in relation to carers. While armed forces personnel are living at home, the home would have a £70 per week discount, whereas while the person is serving, the discount would be only 14%—a very much lower sum.