The bedroom tax is much more complicated than John Hemming’s simplistic advice suggests. And so is sub-letting as a resident landlord.
In the Birmingham Post today, the Yardley Lib Dem MP tells social housing tenants subject to the bedroom tax to take in a lodger. I was going to comment on the newspaper’s website, but my thoughts on his idea began to run to several paragraphs once I started looking a few things up. I’m not an expert on housing or benefits, but if you keep up with current affairs and do a cursory bit of research on the internet, you’ll soon realise Hemming’s pat answer is not a solution to people’s very real problems.
Although lodgers count as occupying a room under the size criteria rules, any income from them is deducted pound for pound from benefit apart from the first £20. Once you’re receiving Universal Credit, which is being rolled out from this month till 2017, lodgers won’t count as occupying a room and any income from them will be disregarded, but only the first £4,250, is tax-free under the Rent a Room scheme. There’s the added energy costs to consider and the additional responsibilities of a landlord include a gas safety certificate, which costs £35 upwards depending on how many appliances you have. You need to check that taking a lodger is allowed under the terms of any home insurance you have and premiums could increase due to the additional risk. And would taking in a lodger affect the 25% council tax discount people receive when they live alone?
You will also need to check with your home insurer that it is allowed under their terms.
Ensuring you’re safe
It’s been widely reported that the bedroom tax disproportionately affects disabled people and women. It’s quite irresponsible of Hemming to suggest that these vulnerable groups of people, probably living alone, should sub-let rooms in their own homes without first considering what their own safety needs are and making sure they have the relevant safeguards in place.
Hemming fails to mention that you need written permission from your landlord before you can sub-let a room. According to Shelter, if you break your tenancy agreement, your landlord could try to evict you. Some tenancy agreements expressly forbid taking a lodger. There’s more information in Birmingham local authority’s tenant’s handbook and the DLG guide available at the following pages:
Hemming should not have suggested this remedy to the bedroom tax without pointing out that it’s illegal to sub-let social housing unless you remain resident in the property. The DCLG have said they’re clamping down on social housing fraud and introduced The Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013 to make it a criminal offence, backed up with a £9.5 million fund.
There’s plenty of proper advice out there, from Birmingham City Council, housing associations, the National Housing Federation, charities like Shelter and Crisis, and even the government websites themselves, but John Hemming’s trite answer is not only an offhand offence to anyone suffering the indignities of the bedroom tax, but also irresponsible.