The Labour Party are still attacking the cut in the spare room subsidy or "bedroom tax" as they call it – while not yet saying whether they would reverse this reform.
Labour have put in some Freedom of Information requests on the number of vacant one bedroom and two bedroom properties in social housing. On that basis they assert that those facing a reduced spare room subsidy will not be able to downsize. They add that suggesting this option is available is "a big lie."
According to their figures, from the 38 councils they selected, there are 99,000 families affected by the spare room subsidy cut. However there were only 3,803 empty one bedroom or two bedroom properties available.
Of course not all wish to downsize. Some prefer to take in a lodger, or get a job.
But the key point that the Labour Party and The Independent ignored was swapping. They forgot about the one bedroom and two bedroom properties belong to those councils which far from being empty are overcrowded. There are plenty of people around the country who would only to pleased to swop with those wishing to downsize.
This is so obvious that it is curious that The Independent didn't think of it. In Cornwall, for example, they say the 3,300 under-occupying can't downsize as only 65 properties are available.
The reality is that they are swapping. The Guinness Hermitage Housing Association report:
A Home Swap and Housing Options event in Bodmin organised by a partnership of local social housing providers has attracted customers from across Cornwall. The event, organised by Guinness Hermitage in partnership with other social housing providers in Cornwall, aimed to help social housing customers looking to exchange their home – whether it be to find a larger property, downsize or move to another area.
Guinness Hermitage Housing Manager, Kerry McCoy said, “This was a fantastic opportunity for local people to look for a more suitable home for their needs and, for some, to look at other options to reduce any housing benefit shortfall they might be experiencing. We were pleased with how many people attended, and hope to be part of similar future events across Cornwall and Devon.”
Under the changes to welfare reform brought in by the Government earlier this year social housing customers deemed to have too many rooms for their needs can be experiencing reductions in their housing benefit. Social housing providers are responding by actively promoting home swaps to help those looking to move to a smaller home.
One local resident said, “I’m glad I attended. I found everyone was very helpful and approachable. Hopefully, I will now get an exchange.”
Let's see if only 65 of the 3,300 in Cornwall are able to downsize.
It is not just the Cornish who have thought of it. They also have schemes in Wiltshire another are cited by the paper.
Of there is Sefton – also mentioned as an area of exceptional pressure. It said that 3,600 people affected were "competing" for 18 properties – the only ones "available" as the only ones vacant. The report quoted someone from One Vision Housing. A pity it wasn't their "Home Swapper Officer" Heather McCulloch who has already sorted out 50 swaps. Interviewed elsewhere she says:
“I suppose you could describe my role as a cross between a matchmaker and an estate agent. People regularly contact me to express their interest in moving to a different house, sometimes it’s because they want to move areas, or because their family is growing. And now as a result of the bedroom tax, plenty are looking to downsize."
Of course setting up the right swap, that people want will, still be a challenge. The good news is that while the Labour Party peddle their alarmist and misleading claims we are seeing housing officers in councils and housing associations around the country are rising to that challenge. As a result more of those who have been struggling to bring up children in very cramped conditions have some relief.