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Hull MP backs Commons bid to exempt panic rooms from Bedroom Tax

Hull North MP Diana Johnson is backing a Parliamentary attempt to exempt victims of domestic violence from paying the Bedroom Tax on “panic rooms” in their homes.

Safe and sanctuary rooms provide victims of domestic violence with safety from violence and harm and often have reinforced doors and windows, alarms, fire proofing and a direct line to the local police.

Plymouth Labour MP Alison Seabeck, is tabling legislation today (29 April) under the Commons Ten Minute Rule to spare women living in properties under council-funded “sanctuary” schemes from the controversial benefit crackdown on homes with empty bedrooms.

Alison Seabeck will argue around 280 households with rooms fitted with strong bolts on the doors and bars on the windows have been told to pay the extra cost or consider moving to a smaller property.

Some councils have used discretion to exempt all sanctuary scheme properties from the Bedroom Tax and last year Government Ministers revised their own Bedroom Tax policy by completely exempting Armed Forces families and foster carers.

The Safe and Sanctuary Rooms (Exemption from Under-occupancy Penalty) has little chance of becoming law without Government support.

Diana Johnson MP said: “Whatever people think on the wider debate about the Bedroom Tax – a Labour Government would get rid of it - the policy was also rushed through. This has resulted in a series of exemptions being made, such as for family members serving in the armed forces.

“The exemption we propose would only affect a small group of people, but it is a small group who are at great risk from domestic violence if they are forced to move because they cannot afford to pay the rent.

“Because the number of victims with safe rooms hit by the Bedroom Tax is small, so would be the cost in exempting them from it. The estimated cost of bringing this exemption forward is about £250,000 per year. However, installing new safe rooms and other protections into a victim’s property costs up £2,000.

“This means that if just 600 victims have to move to a smaller property, because of the Bedroom Tax, the installation of safety features could cost up to £1.2million.

“Other groups have been exempted from the Bedroom Tax, such as armed forces families. The safety of domestic violence victims is just as important and shouldn’t be left to the discretion of local authorities, who might say they can’t or won’t help.

“One in four women will have been a victim of domestic violence. It accounts for 17% of all crime and two women a week are killed by a partner or a former partner.

“Safe rooms can be the difference between life and death, yet under the Bedroom Tax legislation as it currently stands many women cannot afford to remain in their home with such a room because it is viewed as a spare room.  If they can’t pay their rent then they will be evicted. So these victims would lose homes with safe space and become more vulnerable to further abuse.

“Whether the Government supports this Bill will say a lot about how seriously the Coalition takes violence against women.”

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