The Liberal Democrats have put forward a vote in parliament to reform policy on the spare room subsidy. We want to tackle overcrowding with a new system to incentivise social landlords to reduce the number of tenants under-occupying homes, whilst protecting the most vulnerable.
We will ensure that when tenants have significantly adapted property or need a second bedroom for medical reasons, they do not face a housing benefit penalty.
Existing tenants who are 'under-occupying' and signed leases prior to April 2013 will not have their housing benefit cut unless they have been made at least one reasonable offer to alternative social rented accommodation with the correct number of bedrooms.
Why do you want to make these reforms?
The results of the interim evaluation have now been published and they show some concerning findings. We have protected the vulnerable so far but we now want to reform the policy to protect those people for the long term. The results of the recent findings show the impact on disabled people who need a spare bedroom and we want to ensure that these people are exempted.
How would you incentivise landlords?
We want to ensure that the financial penalty goes to the housing provider rather than the individual claimant. We will place a duty on social landlords, including local authorities, to provide regular updates on the over and under occupancy of all their housing stock.
We would then consult on how social landlords could be financially incentivised to reduce their under occupancy. This could include financial penalties for spare bedroom, or targets on reducing the proportion of under occupied stock.
What constitutes a reasonable offer of alternative accommodation?
This has already been defined in law via the homeless suitability of accommodation order 2012 from the Localism Act 2011.
Authorities should consider:
- The need to minimise disruption to the education of young people
- The significance of disruption to employment
- Ability of claimant to adapt to new circumstances
What about other groups who are affected?
There would still be a (more limited) pot of Discretionary Housing Payments available for hard cash to cover hard cases. It is already the case, however, that private sector tenants have to pay for a spare bedroom in this circumstance.
How will you pay for the savings you need to cover this policy change?
These reforms only make up a tiny fraction of the welfare bill. The cost of this policy is around one tenth of one percent of the total welfare cap. One of the ways we are looking to create further savings is by reducing the number of people on high incomes who are able to live in social housing.
In future, we will tackle high spending on housing benefit by tackling the causes – building more affordable homes. In the last four years, we’ve built 200,000 new affordable homes and we’re on track to deliver another 170,000 by the end of this Parliament.