Housing Benefit Changes

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 11th March 2013.

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Photo of Adam Holloway Adam Holloway Conservative, Gravesham 2:30 pm, 11th March 2013

What assessment he has made of the availability of one-bedroom homes for single-person households to downsize to following the housing benefit changes due to take effect in April 2013.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

There are about 400,000 working age households on housing benefit in under-occupied social housing in Great Britain who require just one bedroom according to the size criteria. There are more than 1.1 million one-bedroom properties in the social rented sector in England and 730,000 one-bedroom properties in the private rented sector. The availability of housing varies from area to area and is constantly changing. During 2011-12, there were about 112,000 new lettings of one-bedroom properties in England in the social rented sector alone.

Photo of Adam Holloway Adam Holloway Conservative, Gravesham

Will there be an improvement in the position of disabled children in Gravesham under the spare room subsidy?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend makes an important point. As the law stands, when a local authority agrees that a family needs an extra bedroom because their child’s disability means that they are unable to share, the family can be entitled to the spare room subsidy in respect of that extra bedroom. As with housing benefit claims, the determination of whether their disability requires them to have an extra bedroom is a matter for the local authority to decide with the help of DWP guidance and medical evidence. This week we will issue final guidance to local authorities on a number of areas, including this one, that will confirm the position that the judgment in Burnip, Trengove and Gorry applies to both the social rented sector and the private rented sector.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

One effect of the Secretary of State’s policy is that foster carers who have a spare bedroom and are waiting for a child to be placed must move to a smaller property without the space for them to foster. Is that what he intended?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have made discretionary payments of £5 million available for foster carers to ensure that that does not happen. The effect for foster carers, as we move forward, will be that they will not have to change the number of rooms or their property as they will be able to remain there and to foster. That is what the policy will be.

Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Liberal Democrat, Leeds North West

My right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister have acknowledged that some of the spare rooms are not spare by acknowledging the need for discretionary housing payments. May I urge my right hon. Friend to reconsider whether some of those categories could and should be covered by genuine full exemptions?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

As I have just explained, one of those categories—severely disabled children—is covered and the guidance coming out tomorrow will make it very clear that we will apply that judicial judgment across the board to children with severe disabilities who need that extra room as they are unable to share. I shall keep everything under review and I guarantee to my hon. Friend that we will ensure that the intent of the change is bound up in how it takes effect in so far as the spare rooms will be kept for those who need them. Honestly, however, when so many houses have spare rooms and when so many people are in queues to get housing, it would seem wrong to go on subsidising everybody to stay the same.

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

Is it fair to penalise someone who had wanted a one-bedroom property, had asked their local authority for a one-bedroom property, but instead was given a two or three-bedroom property because there simply were no one-bedroom properties available?

R

Dear Anne, 1 bedroom properties are a waste of valuble ground. Even Sheltered housing should have at least 2 bedrooms. Why? Because when an elderly person...

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Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The purpose of the policy is to readjust the disparity that exists and that lay there under the previous Government. Local housing allowance for social tenants in the private rented sector does not and did not allow people to have spare rooms. In the social sector there are a large number of houses that people occupy without occupying all the rooms, so the purpose is to get that smoothed out. A number of councils have people waiting for housing, people in overcrowding, while others are subsidised to have spare rooms in housing that they do not need.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there will be discretionary payments available to councils to meet particular needs? Does he agree that it is despicable for Opposition Members to be scaremongering unnecessarily and scaring people who are in a vulnerable position already?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The Opposition know what they have been about over the past few weeks. They have deliberately set about trying to confuse people with their ridiculous title. They have tried to confuse people that they will all come under this change, when only those on housing benefit will be affected, and they also seemed to indicate to many others, such as pensioners, that they were not exempt. They are exempt.

Photo of Ian Austin Ian Austin Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Is it not the case that there just are not enough homes for people hit by the bedroom tax? The Government promised, and the Secretary of State said a moment ago, that pensioners would not be affected, but those on universal credit will be. Soldiers’ families will not get full housing benefit, but someone who is sent to prison could keep every penny. The Government are hitting pensioners but safeguarding prisoners, so how can it be right that if someone has worked hard all their life and loses their job, or if someone is serving their country or is disabled or a pensioner, they could lose out?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I do wish the hon. Gentleman would get his facts right. Convicted prisoners are not exempt, so he is wrong. With respect, he does not know the difference between someone on remand and someone convicted—[Interruption.]

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

With respect, Mr Speaker, the hon. Gentleman’s noise covers a complete lack of intelligence. That is what I would say. Let me bring something forward—[Interruption.] No, monkeys can jump around, but the noise they make is not necessarily relevant. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman about his own area. In Dudley, which I think he might know, the National Housing Federation estimates that there are 2,000 households under-occupying—in other words, with spare rooms. It also estimates that there are 1,500 families in overcrowded accommodation. In other words, if property is properly managed, we might get those who are overcrowded into decent-size accommodation. When will the Opposition moan about that?