‘Bedroom tax’ fails to free up larger homes, finds London housing association group

g15Research by a group of London housing association’s has found that the ‘bedroom tax’ has failed in its objective to free up larger social homes in the city.

Introduced in 2013, the UK government’s Social Rented Sector Size Criteria (SRSSC), more commonly known as the bedroom tax, saw households deemed to have ‘spare’ rooms lose housing benefit depending on the number of additional rooms in an effort to encourage residents to downsize.

However a three-year study by g15, which represents London’s 15 largest housing associations, has revealed that only a handful of residents affected by the bedroom tax  said they had moved as a direct result of the policy.

An interim report the research found that around a quarter of tenants were affected by the policy between 2013 and 2015, but three quarters of those affected in 2013 remained in the same situation over the three-year study period.

Of the remaining one quarter, 12 per cent stopped receiving housing benefit and 14 per cent no longer had extra bedrooms due to changes in family circumstances.

Research for the Real London Lives project used qualitative and quantitative research examining the lives of London’s social housing tenants.

The study also found that the proportion of tenants on housing benefit not under-occupying their home according to the bedroom tax definitions fell from 59 per cent in 2013 to 52 per cent in 2015.

The findings also reveal that:

  • The proportion of residents on housing benefit who had the correct number of rooms actually fell from 59 per cent in 2013 to 52 per cent in 2015.
  • Family dynamics and changes in employment circumstances mean families are likely to drop into and out of being subject to the ‘bedroom tax’ without necessarily moving. Experiencing this restriction in eligibility may therefore become commonplace for many low-income households.
  • Residents who had suffered a reduction in housing benefit as a consequence of the ‘bedroom tax’ commonly found paying bills a constant struggle or had fallen behind, and some were in arrears with many of their bills. Other households said the reduction in benefit has led them to cut back on food and heating.
  • Overall a third of all the residents surveyed said they were in continual financial difficulties as they struggled to keep on top of their bills. Half predicted that they would become worse off over the next 12 months, at a time when the ongoing impact of existing welfare reforms are due to be supplemented by additional measures.

David Montague, chief executive for L&Q and chair of the g15, said the findings raise questions about the policy’s success in encouraging residents to move to appropriately-sized homes.

He added: “Our three year study suggests that there is little evidence under-occupied families were motivated to move into smaller homes as a result of the policy. Given the shortage of affordable housing in London, it is questionable whether residents would have been able to downsize, even if they wanted to.

“As a sector, we are keen to work with the new government to examine how we can address the lack of affordable homes, which is the underlying issue. The g15 aims to create 180,000 new homes for London over the next decade in an investment worth around £50 billion, but we will not be able to do this without support from our partners.”

The final report is due to be released this autumn.