The Commons is dead at the moment: with little legislation to debate and no mandatory votes left, many MPs have drifted away to their constituencies (or further afield) for Christmas. But the Lords has plenty to do, and peers are making their presence felt.
Last week, ministers were given a bloody nose when peers voted to nullify plans to cut housing benefit by up to 25 per cent for people who live in council houses with spare rooms. The department for work and pensions says the policy is designed to free up housing stock. A spokesman says:
It’s not fair that people to continue to live in homes that are too large for their needs when in England alone there are around five million people on the social housing waiting list and over a quarter of a million tenants are living in overcrowded conditions.
But peers disagreed, with many arguing that tenants wouldn’t be able to move because there weren’t enough affordable smaller homes available to rent. Lord Best, the Liberal Democrat peer, said during the debate:
There will be absolutely no place in my view for them to go.
The National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations across the country, agrees. It estimates 180,000 social tenants in England are ‘under-occupying’ two-bedroom homes – the problem is only 68,000 one-bedroom social homes came onto the rental market in the 2009/2010 financial year.
What’s more, even the government admits not everybody is going to move. The Treasury has estimated the policy will save £500m in reduced benefit payments, which begs the question whether ministers are pursuing the policy to free up housing stock as claimed, or more to save money. The House of Lords has given its verdict in the clearest terms.