Exactly a year on from the coalition’s Welfare Reform Bill, more than 10,000 households across the EastLondonLine boroughs have been affected by the “Bedroom Tax”.
Elsbeth Benjafield has lived in her two-bed flat in Tower Hamlets quite happily for 35 years.
Part of a housing co-op in Bethnal Green, many of the residents have been Elsbeth’s neighbours for decades. Her sister lives nearby, a crucial support network for the former touring actress, who has recently suffered from kidney failure.
Last year, however, this happy existence came under threat.
With her second bedroom now regarded under the new “Bedroom Tax” law as “surplus to requirements” for someone living on their own, she was left with two options.
Either move away from the place that she had called home for over three decades, or continue to live there but see her housing benefit cut by almost £750 a year.
“I am not even one of the less fortunate ones; I have people that can help me”, says Elsbeth, “there are so many people in a lot worse situations.”
The number of social housing tenants to be hit with the “Bedroom Tax” within ELL’s boroughs has exceeded 10,000 people, according to figures from the Department of Work and Pensions.
Hackney has the highest number of affected people in London. Here 3,486 residents are charged extra rent for their homes because, like Elsbeth, they have a room that is considered surplus to their needs.
The coalition government introduced the “Bedroom Tax” last April, as part of the Welfare Reform Bill that according to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith was trying to lower the cost of welfare “in a way that we can be as fair as possible – without slashing or attacking people”.
Under the new law, if you have one extra room, 14 per cent is deducted from your housing benefit and if you have two rooms, 28 per cent is taken off.
Nearly, one in ten of all social housing in Hackney have been affected and 765 housing benefit claimants are currently in rent arrears as a result.
In Tower Hamlets, 2,510 residents are losing an average of £21 a month as a result of the reform. This is nearly six times more than in Kingston, the borough with the lowest number of people affected by the bedroom tax, here only 395 people are affected by the bedroom tax.
Elsbeth Benjafield from Bethnal Green in Tower Hamlets is one of those that has seen the “bedroom tax” drastically reduce her Housing Benefit Allowance: “I lose £720 a year from the bedroom tax in a housing co-op where I have lived for over 35 years. It’s outrageous to think that one small extra room costs me
“There are lots of horrible stories. I know one lady who has a disabled son and she was hit with the “bedroom tax”. The irony was, the father who had
separated and looked after the boy at the weekend was also hit with it.”
Benjafield added: “There is nothing that says anything against those with lots of money who are under occupying properties, it seems it is only the most vulnerable being hammered.”
And this is a trend throughout the remaining ELL boroughs. Lewisham’s 2,679 households affected by the “bedroom tax” is 500 households higher than the average inner London borough. While the numbers in Croydon have exceeded 2000 households, the second highest total of households affected in the whole of the outer London area.
A spokesperson from Croydon Council said: “The council only seeks eviction as a last resort, and we work closely with tenants to help them avoid that. We may be able to offer funding to help tenants, and this will be considered on a case by case basis.”
The findings come just two days after an investigation by the BBC into 311 housing providers which found that 28% of all tenants that had been hit by the bedroom tax had fallen into rent arrears. This is markedly higher than the figures we received from FOI’s to the respective ELL councils. The BBC investigation also found that nearly 6% of those affected by bedroom tax had been moved, with 3% facing legal action due to unpaid rent.
David Orr, the chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “One year on, there is no disputing the devastating impact the bedroom tax is having across the country. It is heaping misery and hardship on already struggling families, pushing them into debt, hunger and fear of eviction, with two thirds struggling to find the money to pay their rent. Housing associations are doing all they can, helping residents get back into work, downsize or manage their money better, yet they have reported significant increases in indicators of poverty.”
Orr went onto argue that “This ill-conceived policy should be repealed and efforts re-doubled to build more homes, which would bring down the cost of housing and reduce benefit bills rather than hurting the most vulnerable.”
By Jack Simpson and Maya Oppenheim