Mobility and Over-/Under-Occupancy
- On Census Day, Somerset had a higher than average proportion of households with at least two bedrooms more than required
- However, there were 1,803 households deemed to be overcrowded.
- Social rented households and those containing dependent children were more likely than the average household to be overcrowded
- 3,390 social rented households in Somerset were under-occupied by at least two bedrooms
- Removing the Spare Room Subsidy is calculated to cost households with at least two 'extra' bedrooms an average of £21.30 a week in LA-owned housing and £26.48 a week in other social housing (source: Taunton Deane Borough Council)
- With the consequent need for many households to downsize, the Homefinder Somerset choice-based letting system features a free mutual exchange facility for landlords and tenants designed to enable greater mobility across the county.
Under- and Over-Occupancy - 2011 Census
The measurement of overcrowding used in the Census is something called 'occupancy rating'. Respondents answered questions on the number of rooms and bedrooms in their households, from which an occupancy rating was calculated (see below).
Occupancy rating provides a measure of whether a household's accommodation is overcrowded or under occupied. There are two measures of occupancy rating, one based on the number of rooms in a household's accommodation, and one based on the number of bedrooms. The ages of the household members and their relationships to each other are used to derive the number of rooms/bedrooms they require, based on a standard formula.
The number of rooms/bedrooms required is subtracted from the number of rooms/bedrooms in the household's accommodation to obtain the occupancy rating. An occupancy rating of -1 implies that a household has one fewer room/bedroom than required, whereas +1 implies that they have one more room/bedroom than the standard requirement.
Note that the criteria used for the Spare Room Subsidy are more complex than the occupancy rating.
The number of households within each occupancy rating category on bedrooms are broken down by District below.
|| South Somerset
|+2 or more
|-1 or less
- Based on this measure, 42.5% of all households in Somerset were highly under-occupied (a rating of +2 or more) while 2.2% are overcrowded (-1 or less).
- Somerset households were more likely to be highly under-occupied than is the case regionally (South West: 38.7%) or nationally (England: 34.3%). There was very little variation across the five Districts.
Differences are more pronounced when comparing tenures.
- Socially rented housing in Somerset was almost five times as likely to be overcrowded than owned or shared ownership housing.
- Even so, one in nine socially renting households were under-occupied by two or more bedrooms based on this measurement (see below)
To see the numbers, place the cursor over the appropriate column
- Single-family couples and those where the family members are all aged 65 or more were much more likely to be under-occupying their accommodation than the average household in terms of bedrooms (see chart below).
- Almost one in four households containing dependent children, but not as part of one famiiy or a single-parent family, were deemed to be overcrowded (occupancy rating of -1 or less).
- Of the 5,377 households classed as overcrowded based on bedrooms, almost two-thirds (3,467) contained dependent children
- Of those under-occupying by two or more bedrooms, 81% were in households containing one person or a family unit without any children
Removal of the Spare Room Subsidy
There may be many different reasons why a household seeks to change its accommodation, regardless of tenure. However, with regard to social housing, the issue of 'downsizing' has been thrust into the spotlight by the changes in Housing Benefit rules under the 2012 Welfare Reform Act. These include the removal of the Spare Room Subsidy (otherwise known as the 'bedroom tax') for working age people living in social housing.
Since April 2013 all working age tenants renting from a local authority, housing association or other registered social landlord receive Housing Benefit based on the number of people in their household and the size of their accommodation. This means those tenants whose accommodation is larger than they need may lose part of their Housing Benefit. Those with one spare bedroom will lose 14% of their eligible rent and those with two or more spare bedrooms will lose 25%.
Welfare Reform and the need for greater mobility
Changes to the national welfare reform system, in particular housing benefit and the reduction in rates if tenants are under-occupying their property, will place additional demands on the existing social housing stock that is available. Existing tenants may be looking to move to smaller properties (for which demand is highest) at a time when other pressures are also squeezing the availability of that stock.
Nationally the National Housing Federation has reviewed 51 housing associations (catering for 32,000 residents affected by the Spare Room Subsidy - see above) and found that between April and June 2013, 51% of these households had gone into arrears, or further into arrears than before. This included 25% of households that had never been in arrears before. Crucially, it was also estimated that nationally 180,000 households were under-occupying two bedroom social homes but only 85,000 one-bed social homes became available in 2011/12.
The Government’s impact assessment shows that those affected by Spare Room Subsidy will lose an average of £14 a week. Housing association tenants are expected to lose £16 a week on average. Taking Taunton Deane as an example, the cost has been calculated as costing households with one extra bedroom an average of £11.29 a week for Local Authority (LA) stock (£14.05 for other social housing) and households with two or more extra bedrooms an average of £21.30 a week for LA stock (and £26.48 a week for other social housing).
Rent arrears figures for Taunton Deane tenants affected by welfare reform have been increasing, peaking in July 2013 and then levelling out at around £44,000 which is still 38% higher than at the start of the year. Rent arrears increased from 100 tenants who were already in debt (prior to Welfare Reform) in April to a peak of 327 in June, although this subsequently gradually dropped back to 238 in October 2013.
Taunton Deane Borough Council had 600 live benefit cases to which they were applying a spare room restriction as at 10th October 2013. Of these, 70% were council tenants and 30% were tenants of registered social landlords (RSL). Of the 600 cases, 504 had one extra bedroom and 96 two extra bedrooms.
Homefinder Somerset's common allocations policy is shared by all partners. This allows for a wide range of movement by applicants across housing authority boundaries. Applicants can express an interest in properties anywhere within the Homefinder Somerset area.
The figures above illustrate the importance of encouraging the use of the free mutual exchange facility (for tenants and landlords) on Homefinder Somerset across landlords and within landlord stock to aid social mobility and address the financial consequences of under-occupation. By advertising mutual exchange properties on Homefinder Somerset, applicants can also see nationwide vacancies via the links to the National Exchange Schemes.
The Homefinder system provides applicants that are existing social housing tenants with the facility to register their property for mutual exchange. We are making a larger investment in this system to improve the facilities available to tenants wishing to move to enable them to better see the properties that ‘match’ their requirements. This improved system should be in place in the summer of 2014.
At 31st December 2013 there were 850 live mutual exchange applications across the county, broken down by District as follows:-
|Number of applications