Liberal Democrat Steve Webb, pensions minister, speaking in a debate in parliament on Wednesday, said that the controversial bedroom tax could be subject to change if there are impacts that the government has “not though of”.
He said: ‘I fully accept there will be disruption as a result of this measure, which is why we have a two-year programme looking at all this work, evaluating the impact and publishing the research. If we need to make changes to the system as we go because there are perhaps groups or impacts that we have not thought of, we will be in a position to do that.’
The bedroom tax policy will see social housing tenants of working age with a spare room docked an average of £14 a week from their housing benefit.
Mr Webb defended the policy, saying that private renters are not allowed to claim local housing allowance to cover the cost of a spare room.
He said: ‘Where is the morality in saying to private tenants they cannot have a spare room, when social tenants, who are paying a subsidised rent, can?’
Mr Webb also said the policy will help free up housing to ease overcrowding and contribute towards deficit reduction.
In response to criticism the policy will hit disabled people disproportionately hard, Mr Webb pointed to the increase in value of discretionary housing payments, which are administered by councils, from £60 million to £155 million a year. DHPs will be available for disabled people and foster carers hit by the bedroom tax, meaning they will ‘be for the long term’ and not just for temporary fixes as in the past, Mr Webb said.
‘We have allocated the money that we think is needed to deal with the problem and given it to local authorities to respond on a case-by-case basis, ’ he said.
However Labour MP Kate Green said the DHPs would still be ‘temporary and limited’. She said: ‘Is it not totally misleading to imply that discretionary housing payments will in any way compensate for what has been lost?’
Earlier, another Labour MP Phil Wilson branded the bedroom tax ‘arbitrary, spiteful and deeply cynical’.
He said: ‘The bedroom tax is being created by a mindset that believes only those who own their own homes can live in a community and those who rent with government support, even though many of them are in work, are deemed to be a burden on that community.’