The Shadow Communities Secretary Hilary Benn has urged Labour councils to oppose the cut in the spare room subsidy, or "bedroom tax" as he dishonestly calls it.
A couple are using a clever pretense to get around the cut. According to Inside Housing:
Labour-led Leeds Council has confirmed it is looking at reclassifying 865 homes. These include 398 three-bedroom, low-rise flats which could be re-designated as two-bedroom and 341 five-bedroom houses with a downstairs bedroom which could be reclassified as having four bedrooms. There are also 126 two-bedroom flats which the council believes could be classed as one-bedroom.
Nottingham is also using this, quite legal, pretence. They are "reclassifying" council flats in tower blocks with two bedrooms as only having one bedroom. But the numbers involved are relatively small. Even these councils are not reclassifying all their under-occupied properties. The total number of social housing properties that are in under occupation is 386,000.
So why haven't the dozens of other Labour councils followed the example of Nottingham and Leeds?
One reason might be that, over time, councils who do this will not be able to increase their rental income in line with rental inflation. This will mean less revenue into the Housing Revenue Account which is the fund used by councils to build new council housing and pay for refurbishment and repairs.
Another reason might be that as the cost of the higher housing benefit payments will be passed onto
taxpayers they might expect that this loophole will be closed.
But I wonder if the real reason why Labour councils are overwhelmingly choosing to implement this policy is because Labour councillors privately accept that it is right.
In Hammersmith and Fulham on our housing register there are 356 families that have a two bedroom shortage or greater. Around the country there are 249,000 families in social housing in conditions that are overcrowded. Often councillors' casework will consist of these people asking what is to be done about their plight.
The Housing Benefit change gives those in social housing with spare rooms an incentive to swap with those who are seriously squashed.
We will see what impact the change has in reducing overcrowding. I hope it will be substantial. However in Nottingham and Leeds it is, sadly, bound to be more limited due to what the Labour councils there have done.
The Labour Party is not offering to spend tens of billions on council house building. So what hope do they offer to the overcrowded? Could it be that beyond the political bluster some Labour councillors know that the changes being introduced are a moral imperative.