'Bedroom tax's' impact on northern families


BBC Inside Out looks at how the bedroom tax will impact on a community in Spennymoor in County Durham

Officially it's called the 'under-occupancy charge' but critics have dubbed it the 'bedroom tax'.

The government's aim is to cut the welfare bill.

Housing benefit costs the UK taxpayer £23 billion a year.

Ministers don't think it is unreasonable to ask why the state is paying benefit to people who are renting properties bigger than they need.

From April tenants with 'spare' rooms will lose some of their benefit - around £13 week on average for one extra room.

The alternative is to move into somewhere smaller.

Impact on communities

As with all universal laws, the principle becomes tested when applied to the myriad of personal circumstances.

In anticipation of this, pensioners are exempt.

It would have been politically difficult to ask the elderly to move out of their homes as they enter their twilight years.

Sue Brannigan however isn't.

She and her husband brought up their four children in their council home in Spennymoor, County Durham.

They never claimed benefits.

Sue Brannigan Sue Brannigan is worried about the future of her council home in Spennymoor

But when her husband Peter died just over a year ago, Sue had to sign on.

As a claimant she faces losing £100 a month unless she moves. Losing her partner ultimately means losing her home.

Sue wants to downsize and agrees that a four bed home is too big for someone on her own.

What she resents is being told to do so and when.

Her children live nearby on the same Tudhoe Estate. However, there is nowhere small enough in the area for her to move in to.

She faces leaving the community, friends and family she has lived with for decades.

The local housing association estimates it has 1,400 homes that are under occupied, yet it only has four one-bedroom flats available.

'Spare' rooms

Across the North East other housing associations report similar concerns.

'Bedroom' tax - spare room rules

Model bedroom with children
  • One person or couple - one bedroom only
  • Two same-sex children - share one bedroom until aged 16
  • Two opposite-sex children - share until aged 10
  • Pensioners - exempt
  • Bereaved - exempt for 12 months

This is not what the Jacques family want to hear.

They also live on the Tudhoe estate but with a sixth child on the way, they need somewhere larger than their three-bedroomed house.

Tonight's programme also looks at the grey area of just what constitutes a spare room.

One example is of a couple who have split up and the father has his teenage son stay over on occasions.

Should the state be deciding whether or not he needs a second bedroom?

The government is adamant the changes are fair.

It insists the benefits bill is out of control and must be addressed.

But critics fear the nanny state is quite literally crossing a threshold and should be shown the door.

As always your thoughts and comments are most welcome...

Inside Out North East & Cumbria is broadcast on Monday, 11 February at 19:30 GMT. It is also available nationwide for seven days thereafter on iPlayer.

Chris Jackson Article written by Chris Jackson Chris Jackson Presenter, Inside Out, North East & Cumbria

Inside Out returns for a new series in 2015

Inside Out returns for a new series in 2015 but Chris Jackson's blog is coming to an end and he can now be found on social media.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Simple, my wife and I could move to a much smaller home in the private sector, we'd continue to receive full benefit only at a much HIGHER rate thus costing the government more, where's the sense in that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    we both have part time jobs which take us off of the income support system but has not given us enough to pay full rent so we claim assistance via housing benefit we have arrears that we are paying off we wanted to DOWNSIZE years ago! then its go 4 2 bed. now its you can only go 4 1bed, we have our gran kids at w/end where do we put them? wot about our health we are only 56 not 66 no to oap place

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    I was brought up in a large 3 bed council house. We lived in it for 20yrs but when my sister and myself married and left to move into poperty of our own; my parents thought it the right thing to do to 'swap' for something smaller and move into a small 1 bed council bungalow so freeing up the larger 3 bed house for a younger couple to rent.Is'nt that the fair thing to do and make most of resources?

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I agree with the idea that the state should not pay for spare bedrooms, but there needs to be a little moderation. I don't think it unreasonable that an older couple have 2 bedrooms if they no longer normally sleep in the same room. If in some areas the council has no 1 bedroom properties people should be able to move to the smallest available without loosing benefit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    I agree in principle with reductions of benefits, however this is targeting the wrong people. My mother who has just downsized due to ill health and has had to give up working is now in a flat with 2 bedrooms, which comes in handy when she is severly ill (she has MS) and one of the family stays over. Now she will pay for that priviledge. She left a 3 bedroom house, this is the smallest available.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    No, capital costs are met from housing association borrowing less a small (about 12 percent) subsidy. All other costs including significant payments to communities are met from rental income.
    It is unfortunate that the financial arrangements of housing associations are so poorly understood. They are basically commercial businesses that do not need to exploit tenants to make a surplus.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    @31 I'm confused. Are you saying that if you ignore the capital cost of building houses, then council rents cover their upkeep costs?

    Thats quite a big cost to ignore, isn't it?

    Agree with others - a tax is something you pay out of earnings. This is a benefit cut.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    This shouldn't be referred to as a tax. Its not, its a reduction in benefits. Also to those people saying I paid my taxes, the reality of the situation is that the taxes you paid went to pay other people on benefits / pensions, its not reserved for you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Why are tenants of housing associations penalised? Their rent is not subsidised. In fact most housing associations make good surpluses from their rent income without subsidy. The only aspect of social housing that is subsidised is the original capital cost of providing the homes. So are mortgage seekers through subsidised low interest rates. The main cost from housing benefit is from private lets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    The assessments for this benefit cut fails to consider children and adults that have extra needs and require extra space due to disabilites. Pensioners are exempt so why aren't the disabled? This is the actions of a government that is totally out of touch with no idea of the level of suffering their actions are causing with their attack on the welfare system. Claimants are not all spongers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Rent - Spiralling out of control. Private Sector ever increasing, low social housing. This all pushes prices up. I believe tax on second homes should be increased by a factor of twenty until everybody is able to get a house. It's very obvious, that housing, utilities should not be dedicated by market prices, it should be controlled by the government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    The article claims that the woman in a council home isn't on benefits.

    So she paid the full market rate to rent the 4 bed house did she?
    Or was it much lower because it was council owned?

    Because that seems very much like a state benefit to me. Cheap housing from the council is not exactly a tax is it?

    No wonder we are a +£trillion in debt and the BBC gets accused of left-wing bias.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Bedroom tax how dose that legally affect a Secure Tenancy agreement?

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I have worked until I got I'll health I have angina and sleep apnaea among other illnesses I have extra bedroom which I need as my two daughters take turn to stay with me so I need extra bedroom as with my sleep problem I stop breathing that's why my daughters stay so this tax has to be stopped Cameron needs to start helping his own people instead of saying he has no money

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    With reference to the case of Sue Brannigan. Why doesn't her son move in with her, thereby freeing one house, and lessening the impact on their joint free income.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    It's not a tax and shouldn't be referred to as such by the BBC. Why should the taxpayer subsidise council tenants to have accommodation they don't need? The problem with large sections of the UK's population is they have become totally dependent, courtesy of the previous government, on the vast array of benefits available. It's not before time that something was done about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    What these millionaires in government don't understand is that to live in a council house is not a picnic or some lifestyle choice, it's through necessity of being on a low income. I can't believe that the government consider council house tenants as being subsidised. OK then Dave and Gideon, get yourself on the housing and go live where the council put you. These politicians are so out of touch

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Oh, in case my comments aren't valid as I'm a 'scrounger' - I was a hard-working tax payer, until the economy failed and I found my disability made me unemployable. I paid my taxes to support the welfare state so that those in need are supported...not kicked onto the streets because they can't downgrade or afford to pay their rent. The bad attitude against vulnerable is damaging to EVERYONE.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    I live alone in a 2 bedroom flat - I didn't choose to live here but was placed here by Emergency Housing after homelessness. This is now my home, I put a lot into it and even if I wanted to move I can't afford the cost of moving and redecorating another home, nor would my health be up to moving! My situation is not as bad as others, but we're all being bullied for being poor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I live in one of the least expensive outer London boroughs, just to put things into perspective a relatively modest 4 bedroom family home will cost you a minimum of £350,000 or £1500-£2000 pcm rent. Many children grow up in small flats. You really don't know how lucky you are in the North.


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