Bishop of St Albans seeks clarification on underoccupancy charge contingency plans

The Rt Revd Alan Smith, Lord Bishop of St Albans asked a supplementary question relating to the underoccupancy charge and its impact on tenants. The Bishop asked about tenants in the North of England and Wales who believed they would be unable to pay their rent in full due to the introduction of the new charge for an empty bedroom. Lord Freud responded to say 14.03 Bishop of St Albansduring the transition the Government were making available adequate funds for discretionary housing payments.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham asked Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effect of the underoccupancy charge on tenants.

The Bishop of St Albans asked a supplementary question:

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, with the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research showing that 42% of tenants in some parts of Wales, north-east England and north-west England think it unlikely that they will be able to pay their rent in full, what assessment have Her Majesty’s Government made of the implications of the introduction of the charge? In particular, what contingency plans do they have in case that research proves to be true?

Lord Freud: My Lords, the way in which we are handling the transition is to make sure that there are adequate discretionary housing payments. That is why we raised that figure. We know that people are making adjustments, which will take time and need funding.

I am very pleased to see some of the innovative ways in which local authorities are responding to the challenge. Places such as Warrington and Salford are converting empty office space. They are purchasing and improving long-term empty two-bedroom homes. Derby has a home-release scheme that provides tenants with money to move—£500 for removal costs, for example. Many local authorities have revised their strategies to allow people with arrears to move, which was a block for some people. We are getting the kind of creative response from local authorities for which this policy asked.