From The Guardian:
Leeds town hall: the council hopes other ‘fair-minded’ officials in other towns and cities will follow its example. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian
Leeds council has come up with a novel way of sidestepping the controversial bedroom tax: reclassifying more than 800 “spare” rooms in its social homes as “non-specific rooms”.
The creative wordplay means tenants in affected properties are not classed as underoccupying their homes and do not have to pay a surcharge as a result.
The government’s housing welfare reform, which came into effect in April, reduced housing benefit to council or housing association tenants, who ministers claim have more bedrooms than they need. The measure is estimated to have affected around 660,000 people, who are losing an average of £14 a week.
But in what appears to be a legitimate loophole, Leeds council is to reclassify around 837 spare bedrooms. Those who have already been subject to the bedroom tax and have lost out on housing benefit in the last two months are set to be refunded.
Councillor Peter Gruen, the Labour member responsible for neighbourhoods, planning and support services, said it would cost the council more to evict tenants and rehouse them than it would to simply accept that many could not pay for the underoccupation charge.
He said: “The idea of taxing poor people for bedroom tax is perverse. The charges we incur in legal fees chasing up the increasing rent arrears from the last two months is farcical. It costs the courts far more money to evict people.”
Gruen said council officials had inspected the housing stock and reclassified any unoccupied ground floor bedrooms as non-specific as well as very small bedrooms, or those which acted as a thoroughfare to another room. He said he hoped that all “fair-minded politicians” across the country would implement the same changes.
But the Tory councillor Barry Anderson said: “The government implemented this for a reason … the money has to come from the housing and revenue account, but it has not been made clear which area will absorb the reduction. Will local community projects lose out?”
He added: “It does not solve the core of the problem. There needs to more advice for people on housing benefits … hardworking, good tenants may lose out.”
Last week, the Guardian gathered data from 107 local authorities which revealed that as a result of the bedroom tax, 86,000 households had been forced to look for one-bedroom homes, of which only 33,000 have become available in the past year.