Armed forces personnel and the 'bedroom tax'
BAFF has had a number of enquiries about the impact of the so-called "bedroom tax" on armed forces personnel including mobilised reservists.
The "bedroom tax" is part of the Government's programme of welfare reforms under the Welfare Reform Act 2012. Its effect will be to cut the amount of benefit that people can get if they are deemed to have a spare bedroom in their council or housing association home. This measure will apply from April 2013 to tenants of working age.
In yesterday's Defence Questions in the House of Commons (26 Feb 2013), Defence Minister Mark Francois replied to Gemma Doyle MP that
It is believed that very few, if any, full-time service personnel will be affected by the new policy of the Department for Work and Pensions as the overwhelming majority will be living in service accommodation provided by the Ministry of Defence... we believe that the number of service personnel who will be affected, either regular or reserve, will be really quite small.
Mr Francois mentioned that he has discussed the issue in detail with Lord Freud of the Department of the Work of Pensions. What is not yet clear is at what point the Ministry of Defence was consulted about the legislation and when it was first realised that the issue could affect the parents of reserve forces personnel while they are serving on operations - or the longer training periods envisaged under the Government's Future Reserves 2020 proposals.
We have yet to see any official guidance on this issue. It is not clear to us why an exemption for certain armed forces situations could not have been incorporated in the regulations.
Some sources are suggesting a possible "loophole" for some housing benefit recipients whereby a vacated bedroom might be taken out of consideration by converting it to some other reasonable use, such as a study or playroom. If this is a possibility for some families, it is of no use to reservists who would want to leave their rooms as they are, and to be able to use them if returning to UK for R&R.
The fact that reserve forces personnel serving full-time will, in many cases, be receiving Operational Allowance should help them to offset the reduction of a parent's housing benefit.
The change will not affect personnel who occupy service family accommodation, or those who share a bedroom when at home.
As a politically non-partisan organisation, BAFF would not associate itself with any exaggerated use of armed forces personnel as a stalking horse on behalf of a wider benefits campaign. At this stage we have not heard from any personnel who will definitely be affected by the change.
We will, however, continue to monitor this issue and would welcome hearing from any regular or reserve personnel who believe that they may be affected by this change in benefits. Click here for the contact form to get in touch.
Update 6 Mar: The House of Commons Library has produced a useful research note for MPs about under-occupation of social housing and the proposed changes. The note has a section about armed forces personnel, but there does not appear to be anything specific about reserve forces members. See Under-occupation of social housing: Housing Benefit entitlement - Commons Library Standard Note
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