This week there was an article in The Guardian by Cath Purdy, the chief executive of the Vela Group housing association which includes Housing Hartlepool. The article attacked the spare room subsidy cut or "Bedroom Tax" as she called it (failing, of course, to explain just how the measure could be defined as a tax).
More than 1,150 of our tenants have been hit by the bedroom tax. So far only 90 of these households have been able to move to smaller properties to avoid paying the tax. There are some who are understandably reluctant to move, as their family and friends live near their current home and moving away to a smaller home would have a negative impact on their emotional wellbeing.
In addition, there is a shortage of one- and two-bedroom properties within Housing Hartlepool's property portfolio. At the rate these homes become available it would take many years for everyone who needs a smaller home to be able to downsize.
Miss Purdy says "only" 90 households out of 1,150 have so far downsized. That is about eight per cent. But it is still early days. This reform was only introduced in April. Last month the BBC ran a report that "only" 80 out of 3,000 affected in North Manchester had downsized. That was 2.7 per cent. Gradually the numbers will rise.
She adds that there is a shortage of smaller properties. Yet when I asked Housing Hartlepool how many of their tenants were in overcrowded properties they refused to comment. Extraordinary. Do they not know? Or are they refusing to say?
While Housing Hartlepool won't reveal the extent of over-crowding, it is likely to be significant. Altogether they have 7,500 properties. On average, nine per cent of those in social housing in the north east of England are in overcrowded conditions, as measured by the "bedroom standard". That would imply that 675 properties within Housing Hartlepool have tenants in overcrowded conditions. What is the housing association doing to encourage swaps? That is obviously common sense. Many other housing associations and council housing departments are getting on with it. Yet there is nothing on Housing Hartlepool website about it. When I asked them directly what they were doing to encourage swapping between their overcrowded and under occupying tenants they again made no comment. Yet their chief executive finds time for political point scoring in The Guardian and they find money to pay a PR firm to promote their views.
There was another flaw in Miss Purdy's implication that all 1,150 households would wish to downsize as the only alternative to rent arrears. How many of the 1,150 have found work, or increased their hours of
work, or taken in lodgers? Again Housing Hartlepool refuse to say. (Although unemployment has fallen by 400 in Hartlepool since March.)
The cut in the spare room subsidy is working in Hartlepool as it is in the rest of the country.