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The bedroom tax and disabled tenants

09/07/2013


Following Lord Freud's appearance at Housing 2013, Sue McCafferty, of campaign group We are Spartacus, details the impact of welfare reform on sick and disabled people.

Lord Freud and Grainia LongWhen we asked for tenants affected by the bedroom tax to come forward to take part in our research into its impact, nothing could have prepared us for the harrowing tales that flooded in.

We always knew that the effects of the bedroom tax would be felt particularly badly by sick and disabled tenants – they make up two thirds of those affected (420,000 people), and the costs of disability are often very high and barely met by existing disability benefits.

But the stories we were hearing made us ask if it was simply a matter of poor implementation of the bedroom tax or a deeper problem with the concept and design of the policy.

Many members of the public and even, shockingly, many MPs seem to believe that disabled tenants are either exempt from the bedroom tax or generously protected via the discretionary housing payment (DHP) system. This is not true.

The only significant exemption on grounds of disability is for a room for an overnight carer for either the named tenant or spouse. A disabled child, or any other member of the household, is not entitled to a room for overnight carers no matter how severe the need or disability.

Moreover, disabled children are still not automatically exempt if all they need is their own bedroom.  Despite the Government abandoning its appeal against a High Court judgment on this issue, the legislation has not been altered and it is up to local authorities, guided by no more than a DWP circular, to decide whether the child is disabled ‘enough’ to warrant  such comfort.

The lack of clear general exemptions is leaving too much to chance, to the vagaries of local decision-making that seems to vary worryingly widely from one local authority to another. Local housing officers admit, off the record, that they don’t feel qualified to judge disability or the needs arising from it and tenants are finding that the promised protection of the locally-decided DHP fund is not being allocated to those in most need.

This is no surprise as the DHP pot was only ever meant to assist 35,000 households nationally. The Government arrived at this figure by taking the approximate number of tenants with significant adaptations who would be affected by the bedroom tax and allowing for DHP for one extra room for each of these households. So the money, trumpeted as loaves and fishes for all, could only ever help the smallest number of households, leaving 385,000 chronically sick or disabled tenants with no protection whatsoever against potential rent arrears.

Tenants turned down for DHP are being told to use their disability living allowance (DLA) instead to cover the bedroom tax, despite DLA being meant for the costs of care and mobility. This is causing great distress to tenants up and down the UK.

Of course, no tenant, sick or disabled or otherwise, would have to justify the space they take up if they could afford the bedroom tax.  No disabled person would have to worry about leaving an area where they have a support network, costly adaptations would not have to be abandoned and reapplied for, care packages renegotiated with a new local authority, doctors and hospitals changed, if they had the money for the shortfall. It is only the poorest tenants who have this burden, only those too ill to work or disabled, only those so poor already that they are dependent on housing benefit to pay part or all of their rent.

But this is not all just some unfortunate consequence of the policy. The Government, in 2010, discussed granting wide exemptions for those who were not expected to work, recognising that a policy which was to be partly promoted as instigating behavioural change to get people back to work, could not, in fairness, be applied to sick and disabled tenants unable to make such changes.

They assumed that this would be a relatively small group and that exempting such tenants would only incur minimal losses to the saving.  However, once the data came back, revealing that far from being a small minority, sick and disabled tenants were actually the majority affected by the bedroom tax, the plan for exemptions was quietly abandoned. It would not be expedient to exempt so many; the projected saving would not be met. 

But saving money like this is not like choosing to cut back on something, economising, getting used to less so that any initial problems are just teething troubles. Removing a basic security like housing and setting people on the track to greater poverty has dire consequences. It creates more problems than it solves.

The hardship we are seeing is not a temporary problem with the implementation; it is factored in to the very design of the policy – the basis of the saving depends upon it.

And that saving cannot be met if sick and disabled tenants are exempt.

Freeing up, or reallocating, social housing doesn’t depend on the existence of the bedroom tax. It never did. Nor will it make huge numbers seek work as initially envisaged by the Government.

But the success of the £400 million saving does depend on hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled tenants being pushed to the limits of their endurance by a financial penalty they cannot afford.

So, if even safeguards against homelessness for tenants with, for example, terminal cancer are being abandoned as too costly then where do we go from here? What bigger thing are we sacrificing for the sake of what will be, at the most, a meagre two per cent saving of the total housing benefit bill?

It was encouraging to hear the support for tenants coming from the delegates at Housing 2013 last month: we need more people to realise that the bedroom tax is a false economy, to lobby their MPs, to tell people about the real hardship it is causing, and to condemn its appalling consequences as a price not worth paying.

Bedroom tax debate at Housing 2013


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  • Well this is the cold reality for disabled people facing multiple cuts. My local authority last year decided to ditch 'personalisation' with regard to care (despite stating on their website that their care packages were all about personalisation 'Living your life, your way' was ironically the title of that website page). I was already paying ?3,000 out of disability benefits (I have no savings or assets) for my care, but when they scrapped personalisation, that meant I had to find another ?1,500 for extra private care. In April I had to start paying the full percentage reduction of housing benefit due to bedroom tax. All in all now, I pay ?5,900 out of my benefit income in care and bedroom tax. This is a lot of money for anyone who is working let alone someone surviving on benefits. My quality of life has taken a downturn since then. I can no longer save for any large item like a washer (mine is about to conk), and I have few opportunities to see family or friends because I can no longer afford to pay for taxis (which is what the mobility element of my DLA was supposed to pay for). I cannot do a regular internet shop either, and goodness knows how I'm going to afford to heat my home this winter. I'll never work again, and now I face years of scrimping and scraping to get by, and with the further cuts planned I may end up homeless. I have a secure tenancy, and as such I've spent thousands on my property putting in central heating, a kitchen, paying for maintenance that the council and then the social housing group (who took over the properties) refused to pay for. The garden was like a building site and it's similarly had thousands spent on it. Numerous other repairs, fittings and maintenance paid for on the property. I and others have had to seek mental health help and have therapy to cope with the stress of it all over the last few years, and as we know, some have even taken their own lives. I worked most of my life and 9 years into a serious illness before I had to give up work 4 years ago. I played by the rules. People who are seriously ill don't deserve to be treated like this.

    Clare Fernyhough
  • Some FOI results that may inters you in relation to the 'bedroom tax'! WEST DORSET DISTRICT COUNCIL : 1. How many one bedroom properties do WDDC have available to Let? - 83 2. How many tenants are deemed to be under-occupying, and needing one bed accommodation - 471 3. How many people are on the waiting list for one bedroom properties? - 1386 BOURNEMOUTH : 1. How many one bedroom properties do the council have available to Let? 19 2. How many tenants are deemed to be under-occupying, and needing one bed accommodation? 121 3. How many people are already on the waiting list for one bedroom properties? 1763 WOLVERHAMPTON: 1. How many one bedroom properties do you have available to Let? - 118 2. How many tenants are deemed to be under-occupying, and needing one bed accommodation? 2566 3. How many people are already on the waiting list for one bedroom properties?6,821 GREENWICH: 1. How many one bedroom properties do Greenwich Council have available to Let? - 1 2. How many tenants are deemed to be under-occupying, and needing one bed accommodation? - 1353 3. How many people are already on the waiting list for one bedroom properties? - 8,347 SUTTON HOUSING: 1. How many one bedroom properties do you have available to Let? Based upon the vacancies last year the Voids plan has identified that over 2013/14 53 general needs properties should be available for under occupiers 2. How many tenants are deemed to be under-occupying, and needing one bed accommodation? 234 3. How many people are already on the waiting list for one bedroom properties? 523 ASCHAM HOMES 1. How many one bedroom properties do you have available to Let? - 13 2. How many tenants are deemed to be under-occupying, and needing one bed accommodation? - 230 3. How many people are already on the waiting list for one bedroom properties? 12,103 GREAT YARMOUTH: 1. How many one bedroom properties do you have available to Let? During 2012 there were 99 one bed properties available to let from our own stock and other registered providers. 2. How many tenants are deemed to be under-occupying, and needing one bed accommodation? - 316 3. How many people are already on the waiting list for one bedroom properties? 157, NORFOLK: 1. How many one bedroom properties do you have available to Let? none (as at 24/6/13) 2. How many tenants are deemed to be under-occupying, and needing one bed accommodation? 716 3.. How many people are already on the waiting list for one bedroom properties? 298. WESTBERKS: 1. How many one bedroom properties do you have available to Let? none (as at 11th June 2013) 2. How many tenants are deemed to be under-occupying, and needing one bed accommodation? We are still collating the information to respond to this part of your request. 3. How many people are already on the waiting list for one bedroom properties? - 2032 LEICESTER CITY COUNCIL 1. How many one bedroom properties do Leicester City Council have available to Let? 99 2. How many tenants are deemed to be under-occupying, and needing one bed accommodation? - 1,265. 3. How many people are already on the waiting list for one bedroom properties? - 4,353 BOLSOVER DISTRICT COUNCIL How many one bedroom properties do Bolsover District Council have available to Let? We currently have 141 properties that are empty ? this includes properties that are currently undergoing relet works and those only suitable for the over 60's. 2. How many tenants are deemed to be under-occupying, and needing one bed accommodation? - 6793. 3. How many people are already on the waiting list for one bedroom properties? - 1389 LEWISHAM 1. How many one bedroom properties do you have available to Let? We forecast 475 for this year 13/14 2. How many tenants are deemed to be under-occupying, and needing one bed accommodation? 297 3. How many people are already on the waiting list for one bedroom properties? 1852 HORSHAM 1. How many one bedroom properties do you have available to Let? - two 2. N/A 3. How many people are already on the waiting list for one bedroom properties? - 258 ABERDEEN 1. How many one bedroom properties do you have available to Let? - 89 for genreal needs 2. N/A 3. How many people are already on the waiting list for one bedroom properties? 3855 EXETER 1) 4 2) 136 tenants have registered with us as downsizers. We have 400 tenants who are under-occupying overall. 3) The table below provides the one bedroom need figure broken down by band. It should be borne in mind that the 136 under-occupiers requiring one bedroom homes are included in the 253 applicants in Band B.Bedroom NeedBand1Band A (Emergency)2Band B (High)253 (inc 136 registered downsizers)Band C (Medium)116Band D (Low) WESTMINSTER 1. How many one bedroom properties do you have available to Let? We project that there will be 319 one bedroom properties available to let for the 2013/14 financial year. 2. How many tenants are deemed to be under-occupying, and needing one bed accommodation? 102 t 3. How many people are already on the waiting list for one bedroom properties? 761 HINCKLEY BOSWORTH 1. How many one bedroom properties do you have available to let? -7 2. How many tenants are deemed to be under-occupying, and needing one bed accommodation? - 228 3. How many people are already on the waiting list for one bedroom properties? - 1183 CITY OF LINCOLN COUNCIL 1. How many one bedroom properties do you have available to Let? 14 2. How many tenants are deemed to be under-occupying, and needing one bed accommodation? 702 3. How many people are already on the waiting list for one bedroom properties? 1,456 CAMBRIDGE CITY COUNCIL 1. How many one bedroom properties do you have available to Let? - 6 general needs. (Data correct on 10th July 2013). 2. How many tenants are deemed to be under-occupying, and needing one bed accommodation? 38 3. How many people are already on the waiting list for one bedroom properties? 2498 BOLTON COUNCIL How many one bedroom properties do Bolton Council have available to let? 91 during May 2013 2. How many tenants are deemed to be under-occupying and needing one bed accommodation? 3,500 tenants are affected by the bedroom tax. However the Council doesn't hold the information relating to the number of tenants who need 1 bedroom accommodation. This would be held by the individual landlords. 3. How many people are already on the waiting list for one bedroom properties? 11,070

    Linda Sinclair
  • I am the disabled persons carer in our household,the disabled person being my husband which also makes me his spouse..... because of this we are not allowed two rooms as we are classed as a couple !!! so according to the government must share a room!! my Husband has crumbling spine disease, I cannot remember the clinical name for this, but he is in great pain, the only way he can sleep is to have the foot and top of the bed raised, he has a craftmatic bed, so he sleeps in what you would call a V shape to ease the pressure on his back, if he sleeps flat, he is in much more pain the following day and needs far more care and attention with his mobility. I myself have COPD, arthritis in my right shoulder hip and hands, I also suffer from a Hiatiuos Hernia, but I am not eligible for disability allowance as I can still function and I am still very mobile. but without my rest I cannot care for my husband as I am prone to chest infections and high temperature/weakness, so I sleep in a separate room. We live in a four bed house with our 20yr old son, but have to pay for TWO extra rooms, the fourth room being only 68.4 sq foot, which is too small to "rent out" as we have been told to do by the housing as it is only lawful to sleep a child under 10yrs in that room, if an adult sleeps in there it is classed as we have allowed the property to become overcrowded and we can then be evicted !!!! Now my husband receives ?338.49 per FORTNIGHT to feed us both and pay our bills, our heating and electric takes ?75 per month more in colder weather, our TV licence takes ?26 a month, our water takes ?44 a month , Petrol for his transport... or he cannot leave the house ?80 per month, housing benefit has been reduced by our council, so we pay them ?93.60 per month rent and bedroom tax, we pay ?30 per month for phone and ?12 a month the social take for a loan we had many years ago when my husbands back first went, and he was off work for a couple of months, they messed up the payments and we had to get a social fund loan to survive, he went back to work and we forgot about it and still owe ?234. So we have ?316.38 to feed us for a month, this works out approx. ?37.50 a week EACH for food, what does he expect disabled people.... and carers who need energy to look after the ill person, to eat ?? as it is we can only afford one meal a day, and that is one course, no appetiser or sweet!!!!! the man needs to come and live in the real world. Maybe I should put in for a outside carer for my husband AND myself ... I would pay less bedroom tax as she/he would have to be here to help my husband during the night, and I would be getting extra to pay for him/her !!! we are saving the government extra expense by doing this yet they will not rebate ?25.12 for one extra bedroom, which I occupy and a room which is classed as too small for an adult BY the goverment !!!! Our son is looking for work and does not contribute to the house as his ?50 per weeks pays bus fares and food whilst he is out handing in CV's, if he does not do this.. he loses his claim !!!

    emilie frances cotgrave
 

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