Conservative Group Leader on Brighton & Hove City Council – Cllr. Geoffrey Theobald – has branded the Labour and Green Groups as ‘irresponsible’ for suggesting that the Council should not pursue council house tenants who build up rent arrears as a result of Government changes to housing benefit rules.
The Spare Room Subsidy, which allows council house tenants to claim housing benefit for spare rooms in their homes, is being abolished by the Government in April. This brings them in line with private sector tenants who are only able to claim housing benefit for the number of rooms they actually need. Extra rooms must be paid for by the household. Pensioners, foster carers, armed forces personnel, disabled children and bereaved families are exempt from the changes. The reforms are also designed to help the ¼ million households in social housing who are living in overcrowded conditions. Under the previous Labour Government, expenditure on housing benefit rose by 80% to £20 billion – equivalent to the entire national expenditure on primary healthcare.
Both Labour and Green Groups have put forward near identical notices of motion to today’s Full Council meeting effectively calling for the Council to turn a blind eye to tenants who build up rent arrears as a result of the abolition of the Spare Room Subsidy.
Any shortfall in rent collected would have to be made up by rent from other council house tenants and could result in reductions to repairs, maintenance and essential improvements to tenants’ homes.
Cllr. Theobald said: “In their continuing bid to outflank each other on the Left, both Labour and Green Parties seem to be suggesting that the Council does not pursue rent arrears from its tenants that may or may not result from the Government’s housing benefit changes. This would set an extremely dangerous precedent and effectively gives the green light to anyone with a grievance over welfare reform to withhold payment of rent, and it will be other tenants who will pay the price.”
Cllr. Theobald added: “I am particularly disappointed at the stance of the Labour Party which seems to be lurching further to the Left at every opportunity. It was their Government in 2008 that abolished the Spare Room Subsidy for private sector tenants so for them to now oppose it for social housing tenants is the height of hypocrisy.”