Bedroom Tax A 'Shocking' Policy That Should Be Scrapped, Says UN Investigator

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BEDROOM TAX
Ministers say the spare room subsidy could save up to £500m every year | PA

An inspector from the United Nations has given a damning verdict on the government's 'bedroom tax', saying it is "shocking".

Raquel Rolnik was sent to examine the policy, called the 'spare room subsidy' by the government, last week.

And the special investigator was not impressed, calling for it to be scrapped.

The policy was introduced earlier this year to reduce the number of social tenants under-occupying their accommodation.

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Rolnik told The Guardian anecdotal evidence during her fact-finding visit to Britain has raised concerns about the happiness of those affected by the welfare reform measure.

Britain was failing to provide sufficient quantities of affordable social housing, she said.

She said: "My immediate recommendation is that the bedroom tax is abolished.

"I was very shocked to hear how many people feel abused in their human rights by this decision and why - being so vulnerable - they should pay for the cost of the economic downturn, which was brought about by the financial crisis."

Under the Government's welfare reform, social tenants deemed to have more bedrooms than they need have had their housing benefit reduced since April.

Ministers say it tackles an unfair ''spare room subsidy'' not available to private-sector renters and suggest it will save around £500 million annually as part of the deficit-reduction strategy.

But it has sparked protests across the country with critics claiming it is forcing families into poverty and will increase the benefit bill by pushing people into the private sector.

Rolnik's unprecedented visit - at the invitation of the Government - has taken in trips to London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and Manchester where she has spoken to people on housing estates and at food banks.

She told the Guardian some tenants were contemplating suicide due to the changes, adding that the bedroom tax could constitute a breach of human rights laws.

Rolnik's final report will be presented in Geneva to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2014.

Housing Minister Mark Prisk said: "We have written to the Homes and Communities Agency about this issue. They've accepted that, in his evidence to the Select Committee, the regulator was unclear, and have confirmed that all social housing providers have been given the correct viability rating.

"Thanks to Government action we will soon be building new affordable homes at the fastest rate for two decades. The regulator will play a vital role by ensuring this expanding market is robust, investors have confidence in the financial viability of providers, and tenants get the service they deserve.

"We will continue to assess the regulator's performance to ensure lessons have been learnt, and all decisions are transparent."