Controversial housing benefit cuts dubbed the “bedroom tax” could be the coalition government’s “poll tax”, it was claimed today.
A Tory council leader in the West Midlands urged his own party to reconsider stripping people of 14 to 25 per cent of their housing benefit if they live in council or social housing and have one or more spare rooms while MPs and a Tory housing spokesman defended the scheme as a way to make the system fairer.
The Government has now published new guidance for councils allowing parents with severely disabled children to be exempt from rules requiring youngsters to share.
Councillor Mike Bird, Conservative leader of Walsall Council, has criticised the Tories for the plan while others have defended it.
He is concerned that the move will be so unpopular it will do for the coalition what the “community charge” or poll tax did for Margaret Thatcher.
In Cannock Chase it is estimated that 830 are affected, with 744 in Lichfield, 683 in Stafford, 652 in South Staffordshire and 758 in Wyre Forest.
The estimated annual loss is from just over £500 for people with one extra room to £1,000 for two spare rooms.
In reality the “tax” is not a tax at all because it is a reduction in benefit for people who under-occupy their homes and the government is trying to tackle huge waiting lists for council or social housing.
But Councillor Bird said: “It comes into force on April Fool’s Day – that’s a good day for it. I do think this is David Cameron’s poll tax moment
“I can see what they’re trying to do but I’d far rather they were clamping down on benefit fraud.”
The plan has been defended by Councillor Jodie Jones, shadow housing spokesman on Cannock Chase Council, who said: “I hear from families in Cannock Chase almost every week who are crammed into one bedroom flats, or staying with friends or family while they wait for a family property.
“How can it be right to be at the same time subsidising at least 574 households to have a spare room?
“What solution do critics of this move offer for these families? I cannot look them in the eye and justify paying for some people to live with one, two or more spare bedrooms, while they cram into a single room, sleep on sofas for months on end, or have to live separately. All the time those paying for their own housing costs have to make difficult decisions about what they need, and what they can afford.”
South Staffordshire MP Gavin Williamson added: “It’s not David Cameron’s poll tax for many reasons, mainly because it’s not a tax.
“There are key exemptions for disabled tenants and the Government has put in place lots of measures to make sure that there is as much fairness in this as possible.
“The previous Labour government did not make the difficult decisions it should have made which is why the coalition was left to deal with this.”
Paul Uppal, MP for Wolverhampton South West, added: “Labour has been smart in defining it as a tax when it isn’t. It’s about people living within their needs.”