Monday 29 September 2014

Universal Credit : list of roll-out dates

Universal Credit is rolling out a bit further this autumn. The current expansion seems to be filling in the gaps in the previous roll-outs in the northwest, and so mainly affects the big cities and towns. The postcode areas covered are therefore:

  • BB (Blackburn)
  • BL (Bolton)
  • CA (Carlisle)
  • CH (Chester)
  • CW (Crewe)
  • FY (Blackpool)
  • L (Liverpool)
  • LA (Lancaster)
  • M (Manchester)
  • OL (Oldham)
  • PR (Preston)
  • SK (Stockport)
  • WA (Warrington)
  • WN (Wigan)
Note that, at the moment, claims are only being accepted from single people and couples without children who would otherwise be claiming Jobseeker's Allowance - those unable to work will still be claiming Employment and Support Allowance, and carers will still be claiming Income Support. 

The list of which postcode areas are affected and when is provided by a DWP memo: 

The memo (and the underlying legislation) group the data by dates, so it is quite hard to see clearly how things develop in any one city or town. However, you don't need to worry about this, as I've re-arranged the data for you here.

Note that 'BB9 7' means (for example) any postcode in the format BB9 7xx, such as BB9 7AA.
If the postcode you are interested in doesn't feature here, the likelihood is that it has already been included (for example, L20 postcodes already operate Universal Credit, as the local authority involved is Sefton, not Liverpool.

Thursday 18 September 2014

The latest threat to the Bedroom Tax?

The bedroom tax has been a frequent visitor to this blog; unsurprisingly, given the impact it has had on many benefit claimants. In my last post I looked at the government's own report on it, which found, amongst other things, that only 41% of claimants had paid the full shortfall, and that only 4.5% of tenants have actually downsized as a result of the shortfall.

However there are signs that the days of the bedroom tax, as we currently know it, are numbered. The most recent development comes in the form of a private member's bill that has been brought to Parliament. The bill's sponsor is Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George: at its second reading on 5th September 2014 MPs voted 306 to 231 in favour, and it has now awaiting scrutiny by the Public Bill Committee.

(If you want to see who voted in favour of the bill, and who didn't, check out

What is the bill intended to do?

(If you want to check out the details of the bill yourself, you can find it here: 

Let's be clear: the bill is not designed to end the bedroom tax (the 'housing benefit size criteria restrictions' to give it its official name).  However it is intended to address some of the most problematic issues.

Remember that the main effect of the bedroom tax is to reduce the maximum Housing Benefit available by 14% if a claimant has one 'too many' bedrooms, or by 25% if they have more than one. For more details see my website:

The bill addresses situations where the claimant, their partner, or a close relative is disabled. Under the current rules many people in this situation will be expected to share a room: couples, for example, are normally only entitled to one room, and some children will be expected to share. At the moment, therefore, people in this situation will have to chose between sharing where it is not appropriate, and having a 14% reduction in their maximum Housing Benefit.

If the bill were accepted there would be no reduction for a claimant in this situation, provided the disabled person was getting any component or any rate of Personal Independence Payment or Disability Living Allowance, and provided that the local authority was satisfied that it was reasonable for the disabled person to need a separate room.

Note that, in the scenario described above, a claimant would still be subject to reduction in their maximum Housing Benefit if there were additional bedrooms not needed to accommodate the disabled person. For example, if a family is currently treated as having two spare bedrooms, even though a disabled person is actually using one of them, there would still be a reduction, although it would now be 14% rather than 25%.

However, there is another provision in the bill that specifies that there should be no reduction at all, irrespective of how many bedrooms there are, if the home has been adapted to meet a disability need of the claimant, their partner, or a close relative, provided the cost of the adaptation exceeds a certain amount (the last proviso presumably existing to prevent a person making minimal changes to a property, that could easily be replicated elsewhere, in order to benefit from the rule).

The bill also addresses another very common scenario: what if there is no alternative accommodation available? Currently, if a claimant is 'under-occupying', and is willing to move to a smaller home, they are still subject to the bedroom tax even if they can find nowhere smaller to move to.

If the bill were accepted, no reduction would be made if the claimant's landlord and the local authority are not able to make a 'reasonable offer of alternative accommodation'.

Finally, the bill does something that will not affect individual claimants, but may assist tenants in the future. It proposes a review of the availability affordable and 'intermediate' housing, to assess: the extent of the need; what progress has been made to meet the need; and the availability of resources to meet the need. It also empowers the government to contribute to any solution. I doubt that this proposal will find its way into any final bill, but would be happy to be proved wrong: it would be nice to have policy that was evidence-based rather than inspired by dogma or political expediency. 

How does the bill compare to repealing the bedroom tax legislation?

For people who need an extra bedroom because of disability, and for people who would downsize if they could, the bill would be great news if it became law. However the bill does not help people who maintain that they need an extra room for other reasons (including disabled people who use the 'spare' room to store disability-related items). It also does not directly help people who are affected by the bedroom tax now, but need to stay in the same property because their children are getting older and so will need additional bedrooms soon, although it is possible that claimants in that position might be able to argue that alternative accommodation is not 'reasonable'. 

The bill also does not resolve the thorny question of what constitutes a bedroom in this context. The legislation that created the bedroom tax (the Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2012) does not define what a bedroom is, which has caused problems for claimants and for tribunals alike. In a previous post I noted a tribunal judge who used overcrowding regulations as a guide, but as this was a 1st Tier tribunal his findings do not set a precedent. If the bill became law this confusion would still exist.

On the other hand, the bill may satisfy those MPs who are unhappy about the affects of the bedroom tax on disabled constituents and those for whom alternative accommodation is not available, but nonetheless sympathise with the government's stated aim of increasing availability of homes for larger families.

If Labour win an outright majority at the next general election, they have undertaken to abolish the bedroom tax. The most recent statement I have from the Liberal Democrats is a commitment to reform the legislation: these proposals look very similar to the contents of the bill. And the Conservative party want to keep the bedroom tax (or, as they call it, the spare room subsidy) unchanged (for details of all these see my last post).

When I have more news about the bill, I'll let you know.