Since 1 April 2013, new rules introduced by the Welfare Reform Act 2012 in a bid to reduce growth in welfare spending mean that most social housing tenants judged to have too much living space have had their housing benefit cut.

The policy is referred to by the Government as the “under-occupation deduction” or the removal of the “spare room subsidy”, but is commonly known as the “bedroom tax”. The bedroom tax has proved to be highly controversial because of its impact on vulnerable tenants who are penalised for having adapted homes or because their landlord or local authority does not provide appropriately sized housing.

However, this may be about to change after a private member’s bill, the Affordable Homes Bill (the “Bill“), was introduced by Liberal Democrat backbencher Mr Andrew George. Although the wording of the Bill is not entirely clear it appears to make two significant proposals that aim to help protect vulnerable tenants and soften the effect of the bedroom tax.

  1. The first proposal introduces three new exemptions to the bedroom tax.
    1. The first exemption will apply where an adaptation has been made to a home, in order to provide assistance for the disability needs of a claimant, a claimant’s partner or a close relative who lives at the dwelling. The claimant must be able to demonstrate to the relevant authority:
      1. that the adaptation is necessary for the disability;
      2. it meets the needs of that disability; and
      3. the cost of the adaptation is not less than a specified de minimis amount.
    2. The second exemption will apply to a claimant, a claimant’s partner or a close relative who lives at the dwelling and is in receipt of any component of Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment. If they can show that they cannot reasonably share a room due to their disability, the tenant will be allowed an additional room without a reduction of their housing benefit entitlement.
    3. The third exemption will exempt all claimants whose landlord or local authority has not made a “reasonable offer of alternative accommodation” where an extra room exists but is not needed.
  2. The second proposal aims to force the Government to secure a review of the availability of affordable and intermediate housing in England.

On 5 September 2014, MPs showed strong support for the Bill when they backed it at the second reading by 306 votes to 231.The Bill attracted significant media attention as a result of the Labour support for a Liberal Democrat Bill. Whether the Bill is robust enough to withstand a line by line analysis at the committee stage remains to be seen, but it does appear that there is hope for change.