A protest against the so-called "bedroom tax" at City Hall, Cardiff
THE UK Government today defended cuts in housing benefit for social tenants who have more than their allocated number of bedrooms after the Welsh Affairs committee warned a higher proportion of claimants are affected in Wales than elsewhere in Great Britain.
Welsh MPs were told during the course of a major investigation of the potential shortage of one and two-bedroom homes for people to move into as a result of the so-called “bedroom tax”. The committee flagged up concerns about the cost of tenants moving into the private rented sector; members feared that direct payments of benefits to claimants could lead to tenants being unable to manage their rent and falling into debt.
However, the Government defended the policy, stating: “The Government believes strongly that it was necessary to reform housing benefit. The cost to taxpayers increased by nearly 50% in real terms under the previous Government, reaching £24bn a year by 2012-13. Left unreformed, it would have cost over £26bn a year by 2014-15.
“Currently, over 250,000 people living in Wales receive housing benefit at a cost of £1.1bn per annum (2011-12 figures).”
It added: “The removal of the spare room subsidy is expected to reduce overall expenditure on housing benefit by almost £500m a year. Expenditure in Wales will be reduced by around £30m a year...
“The Government is aware that historically Wales has had a high rate of housing benefit dependency, and we agree it is vital that mitigating support is used effectively.
The average reduction in benefit for each claimant in Wales will be lower, at £12 a week, than the national average of £14 a week. A high proportion of working age recipients of housing benefit who live in the social rented sector in Wales are under-occupying: 46% as against 31% for Great Britain as a whole.
“In light of this, the Government has provided Welsh local authorities an extra £2.6m this year in discretionary housing payments specifically to support claimants affected by the policy. This means that Wales will receive a greater share of the total funding than its share of affected claimants.
“In addition, should Welsh local authorities need more funding, they can apply for funds from the £20m reserve fund the Government has set up.”
Plaid Cymru Arfon MP Hywel Williams said: “The Government accepts the need to monitor, but says it’s the local authorities’ responsibility to redress any imbalance in their stock. Rebalancing stock is a long-term solution but people on very tight incomes are having to find the extra money for rent now. They, and their children, can’t wait.
“As far as disabled tenants are concerned, we strongly believe that local authorities should have the power to exempt households from being subject to the bedroom tax in certain quite obvious cases. It is clear that the government is trying to play for time and giving inadequate help to tenants hit by the bedroom tax.
“This is a cruel and misguided policy driven by Tory ideology intent on dismantling the welfare state and abandoning some of society’s most vulnerable people.”