by Iain Donaldson on 10 December, 2015
Imposed on private sector tenants by the Labour Government on 7th April 2008 the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) was the forerunner to the so called ‘Bedroom Tax’ and introduced the concept that the state would only pay Housing Benefits for the number of rooms the claimant’s household need to occupy.
The number of bedrooms needed is based on the number, age and sex of people who live in the claimant’s household, and if the claimant is single and aged under 35, the category of property considered appropriate is a bedroom in shared accommodation. This means a property in which the claimant has the exclusive use of one bedroom, but shares one or more of a kitchen, a bathroom, a toilet or a room suitable for living in.
At the same time as introducing this policy Labour enabled local councils, Housing Associations and other social landlords to serve eviction notices on tenants who were under occupying the social housing they lived in.
Whilst all this was happening the Labour Government were running ‘pathfinder’ trials to extend the LHA to social sector housing. In response to questioning on 19th January 2004 the then Labour Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Malcolm Wicks told the House of Commons that “We hope to implement a flat rate housing benefit system in the social sector, similar to that anticipated in the private rented sector to enable people in that sector to benefit from the choice and flexibility that the reforms can provide. We aim to extend our reforms to the social rented sector as soon as rent restructuring and increased choice have created an improved market.”
When further questioned as to whether Labour intended to provide any transitional relief to social tenants facing hardship as a result of Labour’s Bedroom Tax, the minister responded that “Tenants whose rent is higher than their local housing allowance will be expected to make good the difference with their landlord. This is no different to what happens under existing rules. During the Pathfinder stage, no claimant will be worse off financially at the point of change as they will be covered by a form of transitional protection. There will not be a hardship payment to tenants whose rent is higher than their local housing allowance. Tenants will have the choice to shop around and look for a cheaper property in such circumstances.”
Labour introduced limits on spare rooms for people in private rented property in 2008. It is clear from this that their plan was to later on introduce this for people in Council Houses and other Social Housing. The delay was because they wanted the rents to raise to be close to those in the private sector. “as soon as rent restructuring and increased choice have created an improved market.”