The campaign against the cut in spare room subsidy has used individual cases in the most emotive terms. Often on investigation these cases are not quite what they first seem. We had the example of Rivers Pound detailed this morning by Cllr Nick Paget-Brown
Another concerns 47-year-old Heather Simpson from Battersea. Her home is an adapted property with wheelchair access and a stair-lift – and a spare room. She told Sky News:
“I’m stuck basically, there’s nowhere for me to go.
“I understand there’s overcrowding, but there’s nowhere for me to go. So I’ll just get into debt.”
She has been told by her local housing association that it is unable to find her an appropriate smaller home.
Come December she is worried she may have to find an additional £80 a month to cover her spare room.
She has told The Mirror
“We’ll end up getting in rent arrears, then if a place came up we wouldn’t be allowed to move. We’d be trapped.”
In fact she has not lost a penny due to the reduction of spare room subsidy. She applied for and recieved a discretionary housing payment from Wandsworth Council. It is necessary for her to reapply periodicially but there is no reason to suggest it will be stopped. This relevant point is not made clear by Will Martindale, the Labour candidate for Battersea, in a leaflet seeking to exploit her case. Perhaps Mr Martindale didn’t mention this as there wasn’t enough room for it on his leaflet.
Anyway given that Mrs Simpson is willing to downsize it would be helpful to facilitate this. With her husband and child she is currently in a three bedroom property on the Shaftesbury Estate. They would be willing to move to a two bedroom property but would like to stay in Battersea. The Home Swapper website offers there are 384 people in overcrowded social housing within a mile of her home in two bedroom properties who would be pleased to swap.
It is true that when you tick the box for adapted properties the number falls to 14. That would still sounds as though there is potential – it is a reminder that there are many disabled people in overcrowded housing.
But let’s suppose that the adaptions are unsuitable. Again the Discretionary Housing Fund could be used to pay for adaptions to allow downsizing in one of the other 370. Wandsworth Council’s policy says:
Consideration will also be given to under-occupying households whose property has been adapted to meet the needs of a member of the family who is disabled. The level of adaptation will be considered in terms of the potential cost of making similar adaptations at any new property.
Mrs Simpson’s landlord the Peabody Trust thought this only meant help with rent. However Wandsworth Council have confirmed that they also consider requests to pay for adaptions. As explained above the Simpson family don’t have an incentive to downsize as they haven’t lost out at all due to the spare room subsidy cut. But to their credit they are willing in principle to swap with an overcrowded family. Wandsworth Council would be keen to try and help fund the adaptions to make it possible. If the council is asked. The Peabody Trust have not done a good job either of communicating with Wandsworth Council or of advising Mrs Simpson. So much less bother just to blame Iain Duncan Smith.
Often Socialist politicians (and housing association bureaucrats) prefer shroud waving rather than looking for practical solutions.
A more general point is that it doesn’t help to pretend all disabilities are the same. The figure sometimes quoted of 420,000 people affected by the spare room subsidy cut identifying themselves as disabled includes dyslexics. Should they be getting taxpayer subsidised spare rooms while other households have children sleeping on sofas?
There has also been a lot of sweeping claims about rent arrears. It is early days. But again the reality has been disregarded. The social housing regulator, the Homes and Communities Agency, publishes quarterly reports based on a survey of larger providers. The latest one covers the second quarter of 2013/14 and notes that period is since the introduction of the cut in spare rooms subsidy. It says:
“…there is no indication of significant adverse performance in arrears, voids and rent collection compared with business plans for the majority of providers… two thirds of the providers report current tenant arrears below 5%; the sector average based on the latest annual accounts data is 4.8%. Over three-quarters report void losses of lower than 2% and the sector average is 1.75%. Rent collection figures show that over four fifths of providers report rent collection for the year to date to be in excess of 95%”.
Day by day the campaign against the spare room subsidy cut is shown to being shown to be based on falsehoods.