Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

Southwark News column: Why it's right to scrap the Bedroom Tax -

People in Southwark are being hit hard by the bedroom tax. If you’re a council or housing association tenant and end up with a spare bedroom through no fault of your own, the Government is making you pay more.

The bedroom tax hits 4,046 people in Southwark. What this means for families is that if they have one spare room they will have to pay £848 a year, and if they have two or more, they’ll have to pay £1,562. This is a considerable sum of money for people who are already on low incomes and it’s having a big impact on their standard of living. Many of these households are families with children or have relatives who are disabled, and worryingly over three quarters are unemployed.

Many constituents have come to see me, desperately worried about the bedroom tax. For example, a constituent from Nunhead lives in a 2 bedroom flat but as he is an epileptic he often needs his sister, who lives outside London, to stay overnight to help him recover after a seizure. He contacted me to say that he needed the extra bedroom for his sister but couldn’t afford the additional monthly outgoings of £136.70 as he is unable to work due to his health. The Council agreed to look again at his case and have now accepted his need for a second bedroom.

The Government argued that the bedroom tax is helpful to tenants because they will move into smaller properties and that frees up larger homes for people on the waiting list. But there is nowhere smaller to move to and the Government’s cuts to the social housing programme make this even less likely.

As we warned the bedroom tax will probably cost the Government more each year in administration. Southwark Council estimates it will have to spend an extra £500,000 notifying tenants of the increases, dealing with their appeals, re-assessing their bedrooms, and dealing with rent arrears which build up.

Because so many people in Southwark are going to be hit by the bedroom tax, Tessa Jowell and I voted against it. But it got through and became law because the Lib Dems including Simon Hughes supported it. Simon Hughes should have voted against it because there are more people hit by the bedroom tax in his constituency than anywhere else in the country.

People only get housing benefit if they are on a low income and without the flexibility to move, people will have no choice but to pay or fall into arrears. Taking money out of the pockets of some of the most vulnerable in Southwark is just not fair. That’s why if we get into Government Labour would scrap it.

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