Thursday, 17 July 2014

Spare Room Subsidy: We Need To Change Direction by Danny Alexander MP

Earlier in this Parliament, the Government changed the way that Housing Benefit was paid to families in social housing to make the payment related to the number of rooms they actually need, effectively removing what was termed ‘the Spare Room Subsidy’. We did this for a number of reasons. Chief among them was to give people a financial reason to downsize where possible and free up bigger homes for larger families. We also needed to make sure that our welfare budget was sustainable in the longer term.

This week, a Government report has produced evidence that this change is not delivering the outcomes that we need. The report shows that as few as 1 in 20 of affected claimants have downsized.

As Liberal Democrats, we are proud of our view that we should take evidence into account when making policy decisions. In this particular area, the evidence clearly shows that we need to change direction. And of course we as a party expressed our clear feelings on this at our recent conference.

We will be pressing our Conservative coalition partners to agree to these changes in this Parliament, but if they won’t we will set out new rules which I would expect to be in our 2015 manifesto.

Those new rules will set out that those already in the social rented sector should only see a reduction in their Housing Benefit if they are offered a suitable smaller home and, crucially, turn it down. We will also make sure that disabled adults are treated in the same way as disabled children, by permanently exempting them.

This is a complex and detailed area, and I hope you might feel able to follow this link to a fuller explanation of our new thinking.


Danny Alexander