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Lib Dems call for fundamental shake-up of bedroom tax

By Hilary Joe Churcher

The Liberal Democrats have called for a fundamental reform of the so-called "bedroom tax" in a dramatic withdrawal of support for one of the coalition's highest-profile welfare reforms.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander told the party's Conservative coalition partners that it was "clearly time to take stock and change our approach" on the highly-criticised policy.

He said no-one should face a cut in state help if there was no suitable smaller property available and disabled claimants should be exempt.

The shift came a day after the publication of an internal government review that showed almost 60% of households affected by the housing benefit changes were in arrears as a result and a shortage of smaller properties meant just 4.5% of tenants had been able to downsize to avoid it.

Under the welfare reform, social tenants deemed to have more bedrooms than they need have had their housing benefit reduced, to tackle what the Government calls a "spare room subsidy".

Ministers say private sector renters do not get spare rooms for free, and argue the change will save around £500m annually. But it has sparked protests across the country with opponents claiming it is forcing families into poverty and will increase the benefits bill by pushing people into the private sector.

Nick Clegg has been under pressure to join Labour in opposing the policy since the Liberal Democrat conference voted overwhelmingly to commit the party to the review of what activists called a "reprehensible and evil" move.

"Overwhelmingly, our benefit reforms are working, resulting in many more people gaining the independence and self respect of re-entering work," Mr Alexander wrote in the Daily Mirror.

"However with only one in 20 of affected claimants having successfully downsized, it's clearly time to take stock and change our approach in this particular area."

Mr Alexander said the reform was made "with the best of intentions" but needed to be fundamentally changed.

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