Call to scrap ‘bedroom tax’ for small, rural communities

  |  Published: Feb 20th 2015

The next Government must scrap the ‘bedroom tax’ in rural communities with fewer than 3,000 people, says Community Impact Bucks.

The charity is backing a call by its national body, ACRE, which says there simply aren’t enough one and two-bedroom properties in the countryside for tenants who want to downsize because they can’t afford to pay more rent.

ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England) made the call in its 2015 manifesto ahead of a second reading debate next month of a bill to exempt unpaid family carers from the charge.

ACRE – the national voice for England’s network of rural community councils – said it supported the bill but insisted a similar exemption should be made for rural settlements under 3,000.

The under-occupation charge, or ‘bedroom tax’, which cuts the benefits of tenants of working age in homes deemed to have spare rooms, came into force in April 2013. Since then, according to a 2014 report  from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, evidence broadly suggests that about half of affected tenants have fallen into arrears.

Nick Phillips Chief Executive of Community Impact Bucks said “As we move towards two years of the bedroom tax, its impact on rural communities is becoming ever clearer.

“The policy takes no account of the challenges rural tenants face. Many are already at a disadvantage; the cost of living in the countryside is around £4,500 a year more than living in an urban area. The opportunity to down size is just not an option for so many.

“There is evidence that tenants have fallen into arrears, borrowed money to pay the extra or cut back on household essentials.”

ACRE’s Head of Rural Insight Nick Chase said those living in rural areas who wanted to downsize were hampered by the fact that the standard social rented property in rural areas was a three-bedroom house.

“There aren’t enough one and two-bedroom properties in rural areas to meet the demand,” he said. “For example, Coast and Country Housing Association was reported as having 2,500 tenants affected by the under-occupation measures but only 16 one-bed properties in which to place them.”

ACRE acknowledged the Government had made an additional £5m of Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) available to 21 local authorities in isolated rural areas of the UK to help support housing benefit claimants affected by the policy – but only six of these councils were in England.

“While we support the efforts being made by current MPs to support the needs of carers and to bring about a review of the availability of affordable housing, it is clear the specific challenges faced by rural communities must be taken into account.

“Our manifesto asks for the tax to be scrapped for communities with population of fewer than 3,000 and we will be urging the next Government to review this unfair policy as quickly as possible.”

The ACRE Network’s 2015 manifesto calls for a fair deal for rural communities, set out in 12 key challenges to the next Government.

Jean Fox, Rural Housing Advisor for Community Impact Bucks said: “One of the significant rural housing issues in the smaller rural settlements has been the availability of affordable of homes for local people.  This problem has been addressed in part by the use of the rural exception policy and Local Lettings policies.

The Welfare Benefit Reforms ‘Bedroom Tax’ was introduced in April 2013.  In July 2013 Defra produced national guidelines designed to help government departments rural proof their policies and programmes.  Entitled; Guide to Rural Proofing, the report highlighted to policy-makers the importance of ensuring that rural issues were taken into account when policies were being made.  The next Government must Rural proof this policy too.

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