Under-Occupancy Penalty (Birkenhead)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:42 pm on 26th March 2013.

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 4:42 pm, 26th March 2013

I am representing the Government rather than discussing my constituents, but clearly far fewer of mine are affected than the right hon. Gentleman’s, which is no great surprise to anyone.

The right hon. Gentleman’s speech was made in a vacuum, without mention of the fiscal context or how we treat other tenants. He used various lurid adjectives to describe the policy, as though it was some uniquely unfair concept that where benefits are paying someone’s rent, the level of benefits should have regard to the size of the household. He suggested that this is some unprecedented, evil thing, the like of which he has never come across in 30 years in Parliament—except that he was a Minister in my Department and, intermittently, a supporter of the previous Government, who introduced the local housing alliance. As I am sure he knows, with that allowance we say to private sector tenants on housing benefit that, broadly speaking, the rents we pay will reflect household size: generally, if not universally, someone can have private rent up to, now, the 30th percentile of rents for a household of the size it is. For some years, therefore, we have said to 1 million LHA private sector tenants, “We won’t pay benefit for an extra bedroom. If you want one, that’s fine, but you pay for it.”

If that policy is fair and appropriate for private sector tenants, why is it squalid, evil and unprecedented for social tenants? Surely consistency and fairness—a word the right hon. Gentleman used—mean that we should treat people the same way, whether they are private sector or social tenants. One might argue, indeed, that social tenants generally have the advantage of a subsidised rent, which private sector tenants do not have, and we treat private sector tenants unfairly in the sense that we do not give them an extra bedroom.