The Liberal Democrats are set to oppose the “bedroom tax” at the next election unless it is reformed significantly, the party’s president has claimed.
Tim Farron said he expected his party to withdraw support for the controversial policy – which Nick Clegg has previously defended – unless its impact was softened.
The bedroom tax penalises those on housing benefit deemed to be under-occupying their homes. In a damning assessment of the policy, Mr Farron said it impacted on the most vulnerable and was “wrong and unnecessary”.
The Liberal Democrat president, who is currently developing the party’s housing policy, also said it reduced the amount of money available to invest in new homes.
In an interview with the magazine Inside Housing, he said he would be “disappointed” if they supported the policy in its 2015 manifesto. He believes it needs to be amended “in the next parliament” and said “these discussions are happening already”.
The policy means that tenants have their housing benefit reduced by 14 per cent if they have one spare bedroom, and 25 per cent if they have two or more spare bedrooms. But thanks to a critical shortage of housing stock, many are having their benefits cut because there are no smaller homes for them to move to.
“I would be disappointed if we did support it its current form,” Mr Farron said. “I do not expect our party to support this policy unreformed, we must take time to fix it, learn some lessons and make sure that it doesn’t hurt the most vulnerable in our communities.”
Mr Farron’s comment suggest a shift in the party over the issue, although he is unlikely to have a final say on policy. His stance is likely to be popular with party activists.
Giving an analysis of the policy’s impact, he said: “It’s creating more hardship, it’s wrong and unnecessary... It’s impacting on people and the most vulnerable. It’s also having an impact on housing associations. It means they have less to invest in social housing.”
At the party’s conference in September, grassroots members passed a motion condemning the bedroom tax. But only two Liberal Democrats – including Mr Farron – voted against the policy in the Commons in November.
A Liberal Democrat spokesman said: “There is a vital need to address the increasing waiting lists for social housing. Many people are living in overcrowded accommodation, and others are living in places too big for their needs.
“At our party conference last year we supported the need to find ways to best use social housing, but also assess the practicalities of removing the spare-room subsidy and the impact on vulnerable people.”