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Tuesday, 3 June 2014

DWP FOI on first use of phrase 'spare room subsidy'.


This is the full response to my request for an internal review of an earlier FOI on this topic.

Department for Work and Pensions

Website: www.dwp.gov.uk




Your Reference: IR202                           

Date: 3 June   2014.

Dear Mr Lewis


I am making a formal FOI request for any documents which cast light on the origin of the phrase ‘Spare Room Subsidy’ and ‘Removal of’ or ‘Ending’
the Spare Room Subsidy. It is now used by the DWP as the name for the policy of reducing housing benefit in public sector rented accommodation where there are more bedrooms than the regulations prescribe. The regulations came into force on 1 April 2013.”

You replied

“The first public use of the term “removal of the spare room subsidy” was made by the Minister of State for Pensions during an opposition day debate on the  27 February 2013 about “Housing Benefit (under occupation penalty)”.

That statement is not true. The first public use of the phrase I enquired about which I have traced was ten days earlier than that and was by fellow Cabinet Minister Grant Shapps on BBC Radio 4 World At One on 17 February
2013 when he said

13:12:10 Labour have very cleverly deemed this to be a tax of course it’s exactly the opposite to a tax…. It’s a spare room subsidy that’s being paid through the benefits system on a million empty...bedrooms which makes no sense…we’re not using the housing that we have in this country in a proper way…it’s accurate to call it a spare room subsidy that’s the point.

He also used the phrase on his twitter account before going on air that day.

So your first answer was not a correct response to my question and I am asking for an internal review of it.
I am also asking for an internal review of your statement

“There are no details before this statement which use the wording ‘removal of the spare room subsidy’”

I originally asked if there were any documents which use that phrase or anything similar before 27 February 2013. Given that the Minister used it on that day and that his colleague used it ten days earlier I want you to check if there is no document using it on 27 February or earlier.”


Thank you for your request for an internal review of the response provided for FOI 485.

You asked whether there were any documents which use the phrase “removal of the spare room subsidy or other similar phrases before 27.2.2013.

The earliest public use of the phrase “removal of the spare room subsidy” in official  Departmental publications issued to local authorities can be found in A11/2013 dated 28.3.13.


There are no references to this phrase prior to this date in electronic or word documents.

Housing Benefit or Subsidy Circulars issued prior to A11.2013 used the phrase “social sector size criteria” or “size criteria” which mirrors what is specified in the relevant legislation dealing with the introduction  of the policy. .


The secondary legislation which introduced this policy is S.I.2012/3040.
Housing Benefit Amendment Regulations 2012.


Additional links relating to the statutory legislation are contained in the annex.

Other phrases had been adopted previously. These include  “under occupation penalty” as well as social sector size criteria.;.

Regarding your query about the first public use of the term “removal of the spare room subsidy”.

The first use of the term “removal of the spare room subsidy” by a Minister of the Department for Work and Pensions, namely the Minister of State for Pensions  was during an opposition day debate on the  27 February 2013 about “Housing Benefit (under occupation penalty)”. 
A link to the relevant Hansard section is enclosed below for reference.
[27 February 2013, Official Record, Column 334 ]


This term was later formally adopted as the name for the policy within Departmental publications after this public statement in Parliament by a Minister of the Department.    

The Department would not be aware that the term was used by the Right Hon Member of Parliament for Welwyn Hatfield in his political capacity as [Conservative Party Chairman and Minister without Portfolio ] in a Radio Interview at an earlier date.

This would be regarded as a party political issue as debated between the Conservatives and her Majesty’s official Opposition, which would not be for the Department to comment on.


Yours sincerely


DWP FOI Central Information Team.


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Your right to complain under the Freedom of Information Act

If you are not happy with this response you may request an internal review by e-mailing freedom-of-information-request@dwp.gsi.gov.uk or by writing to DWP, Central FoI Team, Caxton House, Tothill Street, SW1H 9NA. Any review request should be submitted within two months of the date of this letter.

If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review you may apply directly to the Information Commissioner’s Office for a decision. Generally the Commissioner cannot make a decision unless you have exhausted our own complaints procedure. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: The Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow Cheshire SK9 5AF www.ico.gov.uk