Friday, 13 September 2013

E-mail to Grant Shapps

Below is the full text of an e-mail I have sent to Grant Shapps MP regarding the confusion over the term 'Bedroom Tax'

Dear Mr Shapps,

I am writing to you to ask for your help in explaining the confusion surrounding the correct name for the so-called ‘Bedroom Tax’.  As a learned and respected Member of Parliament and outspoken advocate for the matter, I believe that you are the most appropriate person to sort out the confusion once and for all.

Before I continue, I had better mention that I am not affected by the charge myself but I am simply trying to follow the discussion and can see the confusion that is thrown up by the issues raised.  I believe that sorting out the confusion would help everyone.

I know that the term ‘Bedroom Tax’ comes from the opposition parties and that you and your party prefer the term ‘Spare Room Subsidy’ but I, and many other people I have spoken to, have a problem with both names.

Clearly the reduction in Housing Benefit for any spare rooms is not a tax and therefore cannot be referred to as a ‘Bedroom Tax’.  The reasons for this position are clear:

  • The ‘charge’ does not apply as a generally applicable rule to every citizen of taxable age like Income Tax which, although has different bands depending on personal income, applies to everyone as they change tax bands if their income increases or decreases.
  • The ‘charge’ is targeted at a specific group of people and this is the antithesis of a tax.

That said, however, the ‘charge’ cannot be called a ‘Spare Room Subsidy’ either.  Obviously, I have no problem with the ‘Spare Room’ part of the term as it does apply to any ‘spare’ rooms an individual might have but I do have a problem with the ‘Subsidy’ part of the term.

According to the Oxford Concise English Dictionary, the word ‘subsidy’ is defined as “money granted by the state or a public body etc. to keep down the price of commodities etc, (housing subsidy)” and “any grant or contribution of money” and this is where is disagree with the term ‘Spare Room Subsidy’.

Technically, Housing Benefit is a subsidy for low-income families as it is a contribution of money towards an individual’s housing costs so the ‘Spare Room Subsidy’, being as it is a reduction of that subsidy, is not a contribution of money and therefore cannot be referred to as a subsidy.

During a recent conversation with someone who does a lot of voluntary work with disadvantaged people, some of whom are affected by this charge, we came to the conclusion that ‘Spare Room Penalty’, ‘Spare Room Charge’ or ‘Spare Room Reduction’ would be more appropriate terms.

I would welcome your feedback on this issue and whether any of the alternative suggestions I have proposed might minimise the confusion.

I look forward to your reply with interest.


Myles Cook

PS I am CCing my local MP, Jackie Doyle-Price into this e-mail as she is your colleague and should be kept informed of our conversation.

I actually CCed Jackie Doyle-Price in on this e-mail because I just want to annoy her.

I will, as always, post any replies I receive right here on this blog.

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