DISABLED MUST BE EXEMPTED FROM THE ‘BEDROOM TAX’ says Disability Benefits Consortium

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Disabled marchers want to see the end of bonuses for the fat cats
Disabled marchers want to see the end of bonuses for the fat cats

The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), a national coalition of over 50 charities, has written a letter to the Department for Work and Pensions calling on the Government to take immediate action to exempt disabled people, their families and carersfrom the ‘bedroom tax’.

The letter reads:

‘Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP

‘Dear Secretary of State, The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), a national coalition of over 50 charities, is calling on the Government to take immediate action to exempt disabled people, their families and carersfrom the “bedroom tax” changes to Housing Benefit.

‘The latest official statistics show that more than half a million social housing tenants are affected by the changes. This is hitting disabled people particularly hard as:

l Two thirds of housing benefit claimants affected by the tax are disabled;

l 100,000 live in specially adapted properties; and

• Around 230,000 claim Disability Living Allowance(DLA).

• Over three quarters (77%) of DLA claimants live in the social sector.

‘Those affected can see their housing benefit reduced by up to 25% with the DWP’s impact assessment showing that those affected will lose an average of £14 a week.

‘Before the policy was implemented, we warned that it would hit disabled people and carers for whom additional accommodation was essential, not spare.

‘We have been deeply frustrated at reports that disabled people and their families are protected from this policy. The stark evidence since the policy was implemented in April clearly shows they are not.

‘It is hitting disabled people who need an extra room for essential home adaptations or equipment which enable them to live independently; seriously or terminally ill people who sleep on hospital beds and cannot share a room with a partner who cares for them and parents caring 24/7 for disabled children who need a room for a care worker to stay in to give them a night off from caring.

‘None of these groups are exempt and our organisations are seeing the devastating impact it is having on those who now face a shortfall in their rent as a result of the changes.

‘9 in 10 disabled people and three quarters of carers affected are now having to cut back on food and heating to pay the shortfall in rent they face as a result of this policy.

‘Our organisations are hearing time after time from disabled people, carers and families of disabled children who are being forced deeper and deeper into debt and falling behind on their rent, putting them at risk of eviction.

‘Discretionary payments are not working. Our research shows that only a minority of disabled people and carers are receiving support from the fund the Government set aside to cover the shortfall in rent for disabled people. Those who are unable to access discretionary support are being hit with an average bill of £700 a year.

‘Disabled people and carers are being left in constant fear of losing their homes. Even those who have received discretionary payments to cover the shortfall in rent now are being left with a deep sense of insecurity – knowing they may have to reapply for temporary support for the rest of their lives just to stay in their own homes.

‘The Government must act now to exempt disabled people and carers from this policy.’

The DBC says that even where disabled people may have a ‘spare bedroom’ there are not enough ‘smaller’ social sector properties available to move to.

The National Housing Federation estimates that there are 180,000 households under-occupying two bedroom social homes. But in 2011/2012, only 85,000 one bedroom properties became available in the social housing sector.

The DBC points out that even if all the 85,000 one bedroom homes were given to people downsizing from two bedrooms there would still be 95,000 households left over.

These 95,000 households would face either moving to the more expensive private sector or staying put and trying to make up the shortfall in their benefit.

In addition, rents in the private sector are higher than in the social sector and it is quite possible a disabled person could be paid more in housing benefit after moving to smaller inadequate accommodation than the social sector property they occupy.

The Government has made much of the help of extra discretionary housing payments (DHPs) being available to help disabled social housing tenants pay shortfalls in their rent, the DBC says. However, research conducted by the Papworth Trust shows that:

• One in three disabled people applying for DHPs are refused (with no right of independent appeal) , the same number as non-disabled people;

• 90% of disabled people refused a DHP are already cutting back on food, drink, household bills and medication or therapies; and

• Many councils are taking into account DLA when assessing income for DHP applications.

Research conducted by Carers UK showed that three quarters of carers affected by the bedroom tax are now having to cut back on food and heating to pay the shortfall in rent they face.

Research by the University of York highlights that whilst the bedroom tax is designed to reduce housing benefit spending, ‘real data’ do not match key assumptions underlying the DWP’s model.

Highlighting ‘serious shortcomings’ in the DWP’s modelling, the research suggest that three of the DWP’s four key assumptions should be re-examined, since:

• Its savings projection assumed that not one of the affected households would respond to the policy by moving to a smaller home.

• If real data are used, and taking into account regional variations in impact, the total savings the DWP’s model predicts reduces by £160m (33%);

•Real data suggest more variation in potential outcomes – for example some movers may end up with higher rents and higher total housing benefit costs and

• The DWP model does not contain all of the main factors likely to influence the level of housing benefit savings from the policy, for example expenditure on discretionary housing payments and the additional costs of fitting aids and adaptations in new homes for disabled tenants who chose to move.

The research also highlights that local authorities and third sector organisations are incurring substantial costs from the policy which the DWP has not factored in such as rising rent arrears.

The number of council households affected by bedroom tax with rent arrears has risen by 59%, according to new joint research by National Federation of ALMOs, Association of Retained Council Housing and Councils with ALMOs Group (which jointly represent over 1.3 million council households).