In Wyre Forest, 29% of households are tenants, exactly split at 14.5% between those who rent from private landlords and those from Registered Social Landlords, (RSLs), such as Wyre Forest Community Housing and Waterloo Housing Association.
Typically, rents in the private sector are higher than those of RSLs. These higher rents have an impact on RSL tenants, because it is the average rent in the private sector in each locality, (such as Wyre Forest), that determines the “affordable rent” which RSLs set : an affordable rent must be set at 80% of the average in the private sector. The Tory-led government favours the affordable rent level, but RSLs do still offer properties at a lower level, “social rent”. Unsurprisingly, in low-waged Wyre Forest , (earnings by workplace, £354.60, the second lowest in Britain), tenants in all three categories, private, affordable and social, need the financial help to pay their rent known as Housing Benefit.
Note that term “low-waged”; most Housing Benefit recipients of working age are actually in work. Currently, the number of households in Wyre Forest in receipt of Housing Benefit is 7,700. It is from this number in our community that government policy has chosen to target under-occupancy of homes. Currently 605 households are affected. Even if the excess space is a box-room-sized bedroom, Housing Benefit is reduced. The option is the take the hit of a reduced income, or to move home, which is, in many cases, a drastic and unfair choice. Thus a family home, with its cherished memories must be quit, or a home in which the “spare” room was actually in use, to provide for the needs of a disabled family member. According to current Community Housing figures, ninety of its tenant households are citing under-occupancy as their reason for seeking a transfer and another sixty have managed to transfer for the same reason. Most of the remainder of Housing Benefit recipients, therefore, are choosing to live on a reduced income.
There are two major objections to the policy of what is commonly known as the Bedroom Tax. Firstly, it reduces the standing in society of tenants to second-class citizens because the state imposes conditions on them it would not contemplate for others. Secondly, it places an unfair financial burden on a low-income section of the community. For these reasons an incoming Labour government will abolish the Bedroom Tax.