Despite the financial pressure of the ‘bedroom tax’, social housing tenants are resistant to downsizing in Scotland. That is the conclusion of research published today by the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee.
Professor in Housing Economics at the University of Glasgow, Professor Kenneth Gibb, has undertaken an examination of the scale and depth of the impact of the ‘bedroom tax’ and the capacity of the system to meet downsizing demands. He concludes that the pull factors that keep people in their homes and existing communities are outweighing the push factor of the ‘bedroom tax’. His report also looks to the future of the housing system, outlining the anticipated impact on housing supply and money advice services in particular.
The Welfare Reform Committee commissioned the research to build upon the evidence it has taken on the issue from both tenants affected as well as housing providers and local authorities. The research also highlights that:
- At least one third of one-bedroom properties are required to house the homeless and not available to 'bedroom tax' payers wishing to down-size.
- A ‘worryingly’ large number of tenants subject to the 'bedroom tax' are building up arrears
- This situation is likely to be exacerbated by the ‘next wave’ of welfare reform (Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payments, etc.)
- There is likely to be a continuing need for Discretionary Housing Payments in the medium term.
Welfare Reform Committee Convener Michael McMahon MSP said:
“This research confirms what we heard in our committee meetings: that disabled people don't want to leave homes specifically adapted to best suit their needs and that separated families want space to come together as a family overnight. It is not a case of 'spare rooms' but of 'space to live', so homes have the capacity for either the facilities or loved ones that people need to make life worth living.
“No policy should put such basic rights at risk. The UK Government must answer how it intends to square that circle for people, often the most vulnerable people in our society. All of the evidence we hear and is highlighted in this research points to people trying as hard as they can to make sure they can stay in their homes and have the support the communities they are part of.
“It also looks as though we have to ensure the funds available to local authorities to help people with these additional housing costs are not only maintained in the short run, but also sustained and enhanced in the long run. If this policy stays, there will be an ever increasing adverse impact that will require greater mitigation.”
The report outlines how tenants are actively responding to the ‘bedroom tax’ by paying it, by seeking DHP support, by trying to get off benefits and by terminating their tenancies and looking to other housing providers and solutions. It also points out that available housing stock, the labour market, rural/urban settings, housing needs and preferences all impact on the scope for downsizing.
Welfare Reform Committee Deputy Convener Jamie Hepburn MSP said:
“Our research has highlighted that the 'bedroom tax' is forcing people that already have homes, to pursue a limited number of one bedroom properties. The same one bedroom properties needed for housing homeless applicants and other priority groups. When you consider that more than a third of vacancies can be required for housing the homeless, it is no wonder that one Council reckoned it would take 19 years to rehouse everyone affected by the 'bedroom tax'.
“I am also deeply concerned that this situation seems to be pushing many of our poorest people into rent arrears. One Council reports that two-thirds of those affected by the 'bedroom tax' are now in arrears.
“Whilst there is some comfort in seeing that Discretionary Housing Payments are doing a lot to solve this problem, there is the worry that the next wave of welfare reform - Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payments, 1% benefit increases and so on - will reduce incomes and make matters even worse.”
The report recommends that data should be collected and analysed by the Scottish Housing Regulator and the Scottish Government on the turnover of properties by size. This will help those involved in predicting and managing the housing stock to best meet the future needs of tenants.
Kenneth Gibb is a Professor of housing economics at the University of Glasgow where he is also Director of Policy Scotland, a new policy research and knowledge exchange hub. He has worked for more than 25 years on housing questions, including public finance, policy innovation and housing benefit. Recently, he has carried out housing research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and Homes for Scotland.
Ken is an advisor to the Shelter Commission on Housing and Wellbeing and has previously advised the Scottish Parliament's Infrastructure and Capital Investment committee. He is a board member of Sanctuary Scotland housing association.