Is the ‘Bedroom Tax’ working in Greenwich?

In a Labour Borough like Greenwich the phrase ‘Bedroom Tax’ to describe the Housing Benefit reforms is everywhere, even in Officers reports until I complained about the implied bias.  However, beneath the surface (and obviously not admitted by the Council) there are signs that the policy is starting to work, freeing up larger homes for the families that need them.

A year after it started, key statistics are starting to change in Greenwich with Council Officers reporting:-

  • A 100% increase in the number of council tenants downsizing (meaning 103 three bedroom and 49 four plus bedroom homes becoming available).
  • A 30% increase in the number of mutual exchanges, which is the Council’s preferred method of exchange for tenants who are under occupying by only one bedroom. 

The policy is obviously not without difficulties for those on low incomes, but I am pleased to report that the Government’s Discretionary Housing Payment system seems to have worked, with just under 40% of tenants affected by the social sector size criteria (Council and Registered Social Landlords) receiving help and the vast majority of this help being, quite rightly, targeted at supporting the disabled.  Indeed with an extra £360,000 awarded by the Government to Greenwich the whole system should come in within budget and have supported those most vulnerable as a result of the change. 

According to the Officer who presented a report to the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee the policy has:

“Released family homes for us which we very much need.”

So while I am sure that a review of the policy would be appropriate once it has been in place for a while, I am not sure that it will show what the Liberal Democrat president thinks it will.  This policy is allowing families to move from over-crowded accommodation into big homes.  I know that this is tough, but surely supporting families is important for this government and I am reassured to know that the Discretionary Housing Payments system is being used appropriately to support disabled tenants.

A real scandal

In Greenwich there remains a shortage of homes as there is elsewhere, but for me much of the scandal is the appalling standard of many of the existing homes.  A survey of tower blocks in my ward (there are 6) revealed 57% of flats suffered with damp and mould.  After substantial questioning the Council confirmed that by its own estimates over 6,000 of its properties suffered with damp.  Add to that some shoddy maintenance and repair services where tenants frequently report damp and nothing is done or the work is substandard and we have large number of people living in conditions which are damaging to their health.  A good example is shown in this photo, where the Council decided to correct the damp in a house by plastering over the affected walls but left the ceiling – meaning the room is still not appropriate for the child who is supposed to sleep in there but cannot due to the breathing problems it encourages.

Getting people in the right size home is important, but making sure that home is a decent quality is equally important.  In Greenwich the Government is trying to make sure families have large enough homes, but the Council isn’t maintaining them well enough and this has to change.