David Cameron faces growing pressure to review the “bedroom tax” after Conservative MPs reported the controversial policy proved hugely unpopular on the doorsteps during the general election campaign.
The impact of the charge since its introduction two years ago is also set to be examined by a Commons Select Committee.
The “spare-room subsidy”, under which working-age tenants in social housing lose 14 per cent of housing benefit if they are deemed to have a surplus bedroom, is coming under fresh scrutiny amid complaints it is undermining the Prime Minister’s attempts to project the Tories as a “one nation” party.
Conservative opponents are warning that the shortage of one-bedroom properties for tenants to move into from larger homes is making the policy difficult to administer in parts of the country.
Daniel Kawczynski, the MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham, is calling for a parliamentary debate to tackle the “quirks and anomalies” of the policy.
“In Shropshire we don’t have large numbers of housing stock people can move into,” he told The Independent. “As the legislation operates there is a group of people who, through no fault, of their own are finding it impossible to comply.”
The MP for Amber Valley, Nigel Mills, said the principle of the policy was “perfectly sensible” but had caused unnecessary pain.
He said it was “crazy” to make tenants move after their property had been adapted, leaving the taxpayer with a bill for their new home.
Mr Mills said he was also worried about people who “have had a two-bedroom house, but where one of the rooms is just a very small box room”. He said: “It would be very hard to let as a two-bedroom house but they are stuck with the charge.”
The new Tory MP for Telford, Lucy Allan, has said the bedroom tax is leading to “hardship” in her constituency, arguing that families who have to leave larger properties they can no longer afford face losing community ties.
Several Conservative candidates reported facing hostility during the election campaign over the issue. It is even blamed for the former employment minister, Esther McVey, losing her marginal seat of Wirral West on 7 May.
The Independent disclosed before the election that Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, privately admitted to party activists in the North-east of England that the policy was “not an easy sell”.
He was responding to the Tory candidate in Hartlepool, Richard Royal, who said: “Most of us in this room will probably agree with the principles of it but sometimes the practicalities don’t necessarily work.”
Mr Cameron’s former speechwriter, Clare Foges, has warned that the tax “will remain a fly in the one-nation ointment”.
The right-of-centre think tank Civitas added its voice to the criticism. Its communications director, Daniel Bentley, said: “Simply cutting entitlements lands too much of the burden on tenants who can least afford it. The spare-room subsidy or bedroom tax is the worst example of this.”