08:24 Monday 11th March 2013
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[P]AUL STAINTON: A housing association in Cambridge says that the Government’s bedroom tax is threatening its very future. The Government’s defended the spare room subsidy, which it’s bringing in in April, insisting it will help thousands of people waiting for social housing in Cambridgeshire. Well Chris Jackson is Chief Executive of the Hundred Houses Society. Morning Chris.
CHRIS JACKSON: Morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Why would it put you out of business?
CHRIS JACKSON: Well, what’s happening here is that the Government’s policy to introduce bedroom tax, or spare bedroom subsidy as it puts it, is that we face, next year, having to collect a further £100,000 from tenants who are not able to downsize, but have to pay the tax. In other words, lose their housing benefit. It could be up to 25%. We’ve done some research with tenants. We’ve been on the doorstep of all of our tenants. And there is just no opportunity for some people to move, and for some people it’s not possible for them to move. And although the Government’s introduced a very small subsidy for local authorities to distribute in additional housing benefit, there will be inevitable consequences for some people, who for very many years have managed to pay their rent, maintain their tenancy, and suddenly will be faced, without the opportunity to downsize, of not being able to pay their rent, and therefore potentially losing their home. And another consequence for us too, we’ve been around for eighty years. And in that time we’ve borrowed money from the banks to build houses. We’ve been possibly the most successful public/private initiative there’s ever been connected with housing associations. Suddenly our ability to repay our loans will be diminished. We’re hoping our collection of rent will be effective, and that we will be able to continue to collect rent, but inevitably it will squeeze the number of services we can provide. Repairs for example, which many tenants rely on.
PAUL STAINTON: Just remind us, just for clarity here, the bedroom tax will affect anybody on housing benefit who’s got a spare bedroom.
CHRIS JACKSON: Of working age.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. Whether they’re in a social or private rented accommodation.
CHRIS JACKSON: That’s correct.
PAUL STAINTON: If you disappear, who comes in?
CHRIS JACKSON: Well, one opportunity for a tenant to move, obviously, would be to move to the private sector, private sector rental.
PAUL STAINTON: What about all your house though?
CHRIS JACKSON: Well, we’re hoping the Government will not cause that armageddon scenario, that we won’t be able to maintain our ..
PAUL STAINTON: How close are you, realistically? Are you just firing a shot across the bows here? Are you really really worried about this?
CHRIS JACKSON: We are concerned, let’s put it that way, that tenants who we’ve had as tenants for many many years will suddenly not be able to pay the full rent on their property. So we are concerned about that.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. And what about the tenants? How concerned are they?
CHRIS JACKSON: Well I think it’s becoming clear to tenants that actually this is a major major change in their arrangements, suddenly having to find, in our case, something like £14 to £15 a week additional out of their benefit, will be a significant change in their lifestyle.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. We heard from Mike earlier, who called in. He was going to lose £25 a week. .., The Government says that it will help thousands of people waiting for social housing in Cambridgeshire. But the point was made earlier, I think you made it as well, that if you are in a three bedroomed house and only using two bedrooms and you want to downsize, where are the two bedroom houses, or the one bedroom bungalows? Is it possible?
CHRIS JACKSON: Well, that’s another disappointment really. This policy is very badly thought through, in the sense that at the same time that the Government is reducing housing benefit available to tenants, it’s reducing the amount of capital subsidy that’s available to housing associations to build suitable properties.
PAUL STAINTON: So it’s a perfect storm.
CHRIS JACKSON: Absolutely. Until very recently, until this Government, local authorities were encouraging housing associations to build the minimum of two bedroom properties. That was on the basis that tenants would move in, the family might grow, and they wouldn’t need to move out again. So they continue in their property. So here we have the change of Government, change of policy, and change of direction. The construction sector is a juggernaut. It takes a while to turn around. You can’t turn it round within the life of one parliament, or possibly even two parliaments. You’ve got to .. it’s a very long term business.
PAUL STAINTON: What in your opinion is going to happen in April?
CHRIS JACKSON: Well, we’re debating what we are going to say to the first tenant who walks in the door and says I can’t pay my rent this week, because the Government’s reduced my subsidy, my housing benefit. What are we going to say to that person?
PAUL STAINTON: What are you going to say?
CHRIS JACKSON: I don’t know. We’re going through the opportunities, trying to find alternatives for tenants, but clearly there aren’t any alternatives in many cases. And for some people, it’s just not a feasible option for them to move.
PAUL STAINTON: Chris we’re going to leave it there, but I hope you’re still around in another eighty years.
CHRIS JACKSON: So do I.
PAUL STAINTON: Chris Jackson, Chief Executive of the Hundred Houses Society. He doesn’t know what he’s going to say when somebody walks in on April 1st and says, I can’t pay my rent. Are the Government right” Or is he right?