The bedroom tax is impacting on tenants in Northern Ireland just four weeks after being introduced, according to figures obtained by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) Northern Ireland. In addition, even more tenants stand to be affected in the longer term amid uncertainty surrounding the future of relief payments.
Approximately 1,500 tenants on the transfer list for another social home may not be entitled to supplementary payments to top up losses from the bedroom tax once they move. The bedroom tax currently applies in the region however affected social housing tenants receive automatic supplementary payments to make up the difference.
These relief payments were agreed as part of a wider Stormont deal to introduce welfare reform. Recent regulations brought in to oversee the introduction of these payments excluded certain tenants who voluntarily move to a property deemed too big for them.
CIH Northern Ireland says the fact some tenants who move home will not be entitled to top-up payments is not widely known.
Nicola McCrudden, director for CIH Northern Ireland, said: “Many tenants have applied to move home in good faith, with the understanding that they would be protected against the bedroom tax. Now they are being told that if they want to transfer to a different home where they will be under-occupying, they could lose the top-up payment worth up to 25 per cent of their housing benefit.
“This has implications for tenants who need to move for support reasons, or for training or employment opportunities which goes against the overall aim of welfare reform of making it easier for people to get into work.
“Worryingly the regulations that introduced these payments were hurried through the Northern Ireland Assembly without proper scrutiny and we will be seeking assurances that they will be reviewed as a matter of priority.”
More than 33,500 tenants of social homes are currently not using all their bedrooms. They stand to collectively lose over £21 million in housing benefit each year when the bedroom tax relief payments stop in March 2020.
Nicola McCrudden said: “The political narrative around the bedroom tax has been that tenants will be protected. However, firstly the help only applies to those tenants who stay put and secondly, it only lasts for three years.
“Political uncertainty leaves social housing vulnerable to unwanted changes which, if left unchecked will undoubtedly lead to difficulties in keeping people in their homes.
“Additionally, there has been virtually no discussion locally about the UK government’s proposal to place caps on the help available for social housing tenants to pay their rent, which will be harsh. This, along with an ailing Housing Executive stock with unsustainable rents, highlights the very substantial issues which our newly elected political representatives will have to get to grips with if we are to avert a serious social housing crisis.
“The feeling in the housing sector has been so strong that CIH has set up a new housing forum on welfare changes involving key representatives from across the sector to help inform the implementation of welfare changes in Northern Ireland.”