In October, I wrote that 11 per cent of those affected by the cut in spare room subsidy, have come off Housing Benefit entirely since April – usually through getting a job or switching from a part time to full time job. There were some caveats but that was the broad conclusion of my research – based on FOI responses from 141 councils.
Now there are some new figures from West Lancashire Council which provide a sign of further progress.
They cover a full year. They looked at the number that would have been affected had the policy been introduced in November last year. It would have been 1,187.
The latest figure from West Lancashire shows 370 of the original 1,187 have come off Housing Benefit altogether. That is 31 per cent. (If we compare the change since April it is 22 per cent.)
In West Lancashire a further 157, or 13 per cent over the past year, have moved out. This figure includes 71 through mutual exchange with those in overcrowded social housing.
Cllr Adrian Owens, the council’s portfolio holder for housing finance, said:
“The under occupancy penalty was introduced by the Government in April this year because the Government didn’t want the taxpayer subsidising housing for those on housing benefit that was bigger than was needed, especially when those in work often struggle to afford the size of property they need.”
“We’ve been working hard with those of our tenants who were affected by the change and I’m delighted that 40 per cent are no longer affected. Our financial inclusion officers are working with the remainder and we are using discretionary funds appropriately to support those in particularly difficult situations.
“The aim of the policy was to make better use of available housing and we have been able to provide housing to many families who have waited a long time on our waiting lost as a result of the changes.”
None of this is to suggest that the adjustment has been easy. Finding a job, taking in a lodger, or moving to a smaller property are not easy options. Some have delayed taking action and found themselves in difficulties with rent arrears. However the rent currently collected is 97.7 per cent – which is ahead of the budgeted 97 per cent.
Cutting the spare room subsidy is working. If the experience in West Lancashire is any guide, the impact of the incentive to come off welfare and into work is getting quite rapid results.