Wednesday 6 March 2013

Labour Ignores Plight of Families Suffering Overcrowding


Political posturing has been rife by Labour both nationally and locally over the so-called “Bedroom Tax”. 

At last week’s Council meeting I and my Conservative colleagues spoke up for the 1,264 families on Reading’s Housing waiting list suffering from overcrowding. The under occupancy reform (“Bedroom Tax” as detractors have nicknamed it) is designed to ensure that the social housing stock is best used to relieve over-crowding and free up larger Council houses for families who desperately need the accommodation.

However, at Full Council Labour used their majority to vote through a motion to write to government asking for the under occupancy reform to be suspended because they said it isn’t fair on the 1,008 households in Reading’s social housing with a spare bedroom.

There are 9,636 families and individuals on Reading’s Housing waiting list, many having been on it for a number of years.  The overwhelming majority of residents I’ve spoken to support making better use of the town’s limited supply of social housing to help tackle the backlog.  Despite this Labour wants to stop the Government’s reform which will get more families into housing right for their needs.

I met with Mrs Chidsey who together with her husband decided to downsize last year from their 2 bed Council bungalow to a one bedroom maisonette.  Mrs Chidsey told me she and her husband didn’t need all that space.  They moved so a disabled person with a carer or a family could benefit.  Their utility bills are cheaper now and they are happy they made the right decision.  She told me their daughter lives next door to a man who has a 3 bedroom council house all to himself.  In her opinion this is a waste when there are families out there squashed into tiny flats or temporary housing.

At the Council meeting I proposed some exceptional cases which officers should prioritise for using the town’s share of the £155 million Government pot for Discretionary Housing Payments.  These are households needing a spare bedroom because of medical or disability needs, residents registered to foster but temporarily without a foster child; residents with a grown up child living with them who is away on active duty with the Armed Forces.  Labour ignored our reasoned argument and our proposal to work cross-party for the good of residents.  It was very disappointing.  I, and all the families suffering from overcrowding, would like to know how Reading’s Labour administration proposes to deal with the massive waiting list.

Cllr Tim Harris, Conservative Group Leader said, “Labour’s motion did nothing to help a single household on the Housing waiting list.  Instead all they are doing is scaring vulnerable residents.  It is totally unacceptable behaviour; especially given they don’t know all the facts nor have any idea how to deal with the problem of people in over-crowded housing.  It shows them caring more about political point scoring than the needs of residents.”

It is worth highlighting that the under occupancy reform only applies to working age residents.  If a resident or household has a spare bedroom under this reform they have the following choices:
  1. Make up the difference with the reduction in their Housing Benefit so as to keep their spare room
  2. Apply to the council for financial help to make up the difference if losing their spare room will cause them severe hardship
  3. Ask the council for permission to rent out their spare bedroom. NB Their Housing Benefit would only be adjusted after the first £20 of rental income
  4. Ask RBC permission to buy their council property.  NB the government has put up the subsidy to £75,000 for those eligible for the Right to Buy scheme
  5. Downsize to accommodation which meets their needs