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Armed Forces exempt from controversial bedroom tax

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: March 13, 2013

By GRAEME DEMIANYK

Servicemen and women and foster carers will be exempt from the new 'bedroom tax', says the Government

Servicemen and women and foster carers will be exempt from the new 'bedroom tax', says the Government

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The Government has revised its controversial clampdown on housing benefit by exempting armed forces families and foster carers from the so-called "bedroom tax".

The move, likely to be perceived as another U-turn, followed concerns raised by a Westcountry MP over households losing welfare if a bedroom was empty because someone was away serving in the military.

Devon and Cornwall has arguably the largest number of military service personnel of any region, with around 14,500 men and women, principally in the Navy, based in the two counties.

Under the Government's proposals for an under-occupancy penalty – dubbed a "bedroom tax" by Labour but a "spare room subsidy" by David Cameron – people would receive a cut in housing benefit where they are deemed to have spare bedrooms.

Ministers had resisted a sustained Labour campaign, which warned that vulnerable families would suffer, by arguing the policy would cut both the spiralling welfare bill and housing waiting lists.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said a hardship fund was always intended to protect 5,000 foster carers and "rather fewer" armed forces personnel groups – but the new regulations put these protections "beyond doubt".

In Prime Minister's Questions in January, Plymouth Moor View Labour MP Alison Seabeck raised concerns over the impact on military families. The city is home to Devonport Naval Base and naval and army commandos.

In the wake of the climbdown, Ms Seabeck said: "I am pleased they have appeared to listen the pressure that's been applied, particularly for armed forces families. My constituents have been deeply concerned."

The Department for Work and Pensions also confirmed councils would be given the power to exempt families with severely disabled children. Exemptions were already in place for pensioners.

Ms Seabeck added: "I still think there are questions which will arise if local authorities' decision-making processes are different and there's a postcode lottery in relation to disabled youngsters."

Andrew George, Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives, whose constituency includes RNAS Culdrose near Helston, said the policy should be scrapped entirely as it was "doubly unfair and inept" in the rural Westcountry, where there is a chronic shortage of social housing.

He said: "When we get to a stage where there is sufficient affordable houses we can start providing incentives to get the right-sized families into the right-sized properties. Until then it's a bit of scapegoating."

Estimates based on official figures indicate 9,170 people living in social or council housing in Devon and Cornwall are set to lose an average of £637 a year.

Mr Duncan Smith insisted the policy remained "absolutely vital" as far too many people were living in accommodation which they did not fully occupy, while millions are trapped on waiting lists or living in overcrowded accommodation.

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2 comments

  • PeteTorq  |  March 13 2013, 9:37PM

    From 1 April, anyone living in social housing who has one unoccupied bedroom will have their housing benefit cut by 14%, rising to 25% for households with two spare bedrooms. You may think that sounds fair enough? But unless you consider the facts the impacts of such short sighted populist politics will be socially far reaching and ultimately cost whole lot more than the current welfare bill. The incoming cuts are set to affect an estimated 660,000 social housing tenants across the country. There is a catastrophic shortage of social housing and the severe shortage of one bed properties will force people into the private rented sector the landlords in turn will have the monopoly on rental income which of course those claiming Housing Benefit will be capped. You may try to run from the problem but there is simply nowhere to hide from the fact that hundreds of thousands of people will become homeless,alienated from their established communities and families. The narrow minded and quite frankly fascist view that anyone claiming housing benefit is living it up in millionaires mansions at the tax payers expense is simply not true,this policy will impact severely on thousands of hard working low income families. And no it definitely is not a u-turn or climb down but a not unusually deceptive attempt to reinforce the right wing ideology of the undeserving poor.

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  • sammy_cheese  |  March 13 2013, 9:32AM

    Bringing the plan in but modifying it is hardly a u-turn, however the press might like to spin it. Excellent, maybe now the major complaint the smug left had against these plans has been removed they will stop crying and show their support. It is one thing paying benefits to support children on welfare, but once these kids have grown up, moved out and are claiming their own housing benefit, should we really be paying for Mr and Mrs Sprogalot to continue living in their mansion.

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