Spare bedroom welfare reform fails to achieve its aim – new data shows

New research by a group of London’s largest housing providers indicates that one of the Government’s flagship welfare reforms is failing in its aim of freeing up larger homes, highlighting the need for more affordable homes in the capital.

This is the latest finding from the g15’s Real London Lives project – the ground-breaking three-year study examining the lives of London’s social housing tenants through qualitative and quantitative research – which will publish its final full report this Autumn.

The Government’s Social Rented Sector Size Criteria (SRSSC), commonly known as the ‘bedroom tax’, was designed to encourage residents to downsize while reducing housing benefit costs. Under the policy, which was introduced in 2013, households deemed to have “spare” rooms lose housing benefit depending on the number of additional rooms.

This interim report by the g15 indicates that around a quarter of social housing residents were affected by SRSSC consistently between 2013 and 2015. Three quarters of those affected in 2013 remained in the same situation over the course of the study. Of the remaining one quarter, about half stopped receiving housing benefit, and the other half no longer had extra bedrooms due to changes in family circumstances.

Since 2013, only a handful of residents affected by the SRSSC said they had moved as a direct result of the policy. This pattern therefore raises questions about the policy’s success in encouraging residents to move to appropriately-sized homes.

The latest findings also reveal that:

  • The proportion of residents on housing benefit who had the correct number of rooms actually fell from 59 per cent in 2013 to 52 per cent in 2015.
  • Family dynamics and changes in employment circumstances mean that families are likely to drop into and out of being subject to the ‘bedroom tax’ without necessarily moving. Experiencing this restriction in eligibility may therefore become commonplace for many low-income households.
  • Residents who had suffered a reduction in housing benefit as a consequence of the ‘bedroom tax’ commonly found paying bills a constant struggle or had fallen behind, and some were in arrears with many of their bills. Other households said the reduction in benefit has led them to cut back on food and heating.
  • Overall a third of all the residents surveyed said they were in continual financial difficulties as they struggled to keep on top of their bills.   Half predicted that they would become worse off over the next 12 months, at a time when the on-going impact of existing welfare reforms are due to be supplemented by additional measures.

David Montague, Chief Executive for L&Q and Chair of the g15 said: “Our three year study suggests that there is little evidence under-occupied families were motivated to move into smaller homes as a result of the policy. Given the shortage of affordable housing in London, it is questionable whether residents would have been able to downsize, even if they wanted to.

“As a sector, we are keen to work with the new Government to examine how we can address the lack of affordable homes, which is the underlying issue.  The g15 aims to create 180,000 new homes for London over the next decade in an investment worth around £50 billion, but we will not be able to do this without support from our partners.”

Real London Lives interviewed social housing residents in London between 2013 and 2015. The final report is due to be released this autumn.

Notes to editors

  • Real London Lives is a three year programme of longitudinal research following the lives of a representative sample of working age residents of London’s largest housing association landlords. The research includes repeated quantitative telephone interviews and repeated in-depth face-to-face qualitative interviews with g15 tenants by the Centre for Housing Policy at the University of York. Findings from the qualitative work will be reported separately.
  • The quantitative results in this report are based on 713 g15 tenants who were interviewed over the telephone in the autumn of 2013, and then again one or two years later in 2014 and 2015.
  • The full research reports to mark the conclusion of the three-year  Real London Lives research programme will be published in September 2016
  • Through the ‘Love London Working’ initiative with other London Housing Associations, it aims to assist another 21,000 people into work over the next three years.
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