Department for Work and Pensions
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Poll shows support for removal of spare room subsidy

New independent research shows there is strong public support for reducing under-occupation and overcrowding in social housing.

There is strong public support for reducing under-occupation and overcrowding in social housing, according to new independent research released today (8 November 2013).

In a poll conducted by Ipsos MORI, 78% of respondents said they thought it was important to tackle the problem, which has led to nearly one-third of social housing tenants who receive Housing Benefit, living in homes that are too big for their needs.

In comparison, just 14% disagreed, with a further 9% undecided.

The polling also found that 54% agreed that it is fair that people of working age, who live in social housing, should receive less Housing Benefit if they have more bedrooms than they need.

The research has been welcomed by Minister for Employment Esther McVey.

She said:

This shows that the public agree that action was needed to tackle overcrowding and to make better use of our housing stock.

There were approaching 1 million spare bedrooms being paid for by Housing Benefit, yet at the same time hundreds of thousands of families living in overcrowded social housing. This disparity was unfair and had to be addressed.

On top of this we have seen our Housing Benefit bill exceed £24 billion – an increase of 50% in just 10 years – and this had to be brought under control.

The study also revealed:

  • that the majority of people – 54% – believe the coalition government’s removal of the spare room subsidy policy will encourage those receiving less housing benefit to improve their personal situation by, for example, finding work.

  • 60% believed that those affected by the policy should either find new or alternative work, or work longer hours.

The new policy is aimed at those of working age who live in social housing and have their rent paid through Housing Benefit.

The initiative is starting to yield positive results, with people now taking the opportunity to downsize.

Paul Biggs lived in a two-bedroom flat on the Millbank Estate in Pimlico, London, for 30 years.

He had been living alone since 2003, meaning he had a spare bedroom.

But Mr Biggs arranged to swap his home with a couple who had a baby and needed more space.

Mr Biggs said:

I got in contact with them and we agreed to a mutual swap.

We were both happy to move so it was a relatively smooth process: the staff at the housing office carried out some inspections, we signed the deeds and set the date to move.

The whole process only took about 3 weeks to organise, so if you’re affected by the introduction of the spare room subsidy, don’t be worried that you’ll be caught up in red tape if you do want to downsize.

He added:

I’m settling in nicely to my new home. I had a few teething problems with the boiler, but CityWest Homes fixed it quickly.

I’m quite comfortable here and haven’t really noticed much of a difference since I relocated, apart from having a bit less space.

More information

Ipsos MORI interviewed 2,021 British adults aged between 16 and 75 during 23 to 28 August. Of these, 96% had heard of the policy to reduce housing benefit for social renters under-occupying their properties.

The government reduced entitlement to Housing Benefit for working age tenants in April 2013.

Those with 1 extra bedroom have a reduction of 14% to their eligible rent, and those with 2 or more extra bedrooms, 25%.

The reforms were introduced to bring fairness back to the system and make for a better use of housing stock.

Nearly 2 million households in England alone are currently on the housing waiting list.

The new rules only applied to people of working age; the following groups were either exempt or given extra support:

  • pensioners and their partners
  • homeless people living in certain types of temporary accommodation
  • wives or husbands of those serving in the armed forces
  • live in carers or carers staying overnight
  • people who receive care, support or supervision from their landlord
  • parents of students whose main residence is the family home
  • foster carers, provided they have fostered a child within the last 12 months or become a registered foster carer in the last 12 months
  • bereaved families will be given one year’s grace to come to terms with their loss and come to a decision
  • parents of armed forces personnel are allowed to retain their adult child’s room if they are deployed on operations

In addition, £25 million of a £190 million fund given to councils to help them adapt to the reforms was earmarked specifically for disabled people living in significantly adapted properties.

Read the full report – Public perceptions of the spare room subsidy

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