MP urges 'bedroom tax' exemption

Domestic violence victims living in social housing which has been fitted with protection measures such as safe and sanctuary rooms should be exempt from the so-called "bedroom tax", an MP has said.

An MP said domestic violence victims living in social housing which has been fitted with protection measures should be exempt from the so-called 'bedroom tax'
An MP said domestic violence victims living in social housing which has been fitted with protection measures should be exempt from the so-called 'bedroom tax'

Labour's Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) said victims who have safe rooms installed or have homes fitted with security measures but have an extra bedroom are being forced to move from places of safety due to the removal of the "spare room subsidy".

Such "sanctuary rooms" and protections can be the difference between life and death, she said.

Ms Seabeck said moving home leaves victims vulnerable to further abuse and has a destabilising effect.

Bringing forward her Safe and Sanctuary Rooms (Exemption from Under-Occupancy Penalty) Bill, she said abuse victims also face a "postcode lottery" as different councils deal with the issue in different ways.

Exempting such homes from paying extra for spare rooms would also be inexpensive, as only around 280 homes are affected, and securing a smaller home would be costly in itself.

Bringing her Bill forward under a Ten Minute Rule motion, Ms Seabeck said: "The bedroom tax, spare room subsidy, call it what you will, has had a significant number of serious and unexpected consequences.

"What this Bill does is remove the penalty placed on a victim of domestic violence who has in their property a safe or sanctuary room or whose property has been adapted to make it secure.

"One in four women will have been the victim of domestic abuse. It accounts for 17% of all crime. Two women a week are killed by their partner or former partner. These safe rooms, safe houses, can be the difference between life and death.

"Yet under the legislation as it currently stands many women and indeed some men cannot afford to remain in the home because it is viewed as having a spare room.

"If they can't pay their rent they will be evicted and so not only are these victims of abuse losing their home with a safe place within it but they become more vulnerable to further abuse.

"We are not just talking here about a room but what is a place of safety for victims and their children."

Ms Seabeck gave an example of a woman who is found to be under-occupying her property after her children leave home, but has had safety measures put in place because her partner became abusive.

She said: "Moving that person and her family into another property will of course require a new smaller property to be upgraded in order to keep her safe.

"The costs involved here would be significant. In making a new property safe that could involve windows being laminated and reinforced, external doors being strengthened, fire retardant letter boxes, smoke detectors, fire alarms, window alarms.

"Whilst all of these charges come at some considerable cost to the taxpayer it still doesn't take into account the distress caused to the family and children involved. They live in a home where violence is an issue and where periods of calm are needed.

"Expecting them to move out and possibly find a new school, build new friendships, is hugely destabilising, and so there is a further human cost of the decision to include sanctuary rooms and properties in the legislation."

But Tory Therese Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) said such homes would be able to apply for the discretionary housing payment to receive extra funding from the Government to cover extra costs arising from the introduction of the 'bedroom tax'.

Ms Coffey said all 13 households affected in Ms Seabeck's constituency had already been granted the payment.

As Work and Pensions Minister Esther McVey nodded in agreement, Ms Coffey said: "As a significant adaptation has been made to that house, then any householder with a house with a sanctuary room can automatically apply for the discretionary housing payment and that is why over £300 million has been given by the Government to ensure that local councils can do what they need to do with their local residents.

"It's my understanding that in Plymouth all the 13 households have discretionary housing payment granted, that is right.

"So with less than one sanctuary room per council area I think it is appropriate that we consider not just creating laws but allowing our local councils to get on and do the right thing with the discretionary housing payment."

The Bill, which has support from a group of Labour MPs and one Liberal Democrat, is scheduled for a second reading on June 6, but is unlikely to make further progress without Government support and due to lack of parliamentary time.