The Department for Work and Pensions has announced who will be exempt from the controversial new ‘bedroom tax’. Critics of the policy, however, insist that people living with disabilities will still lose out.
The so-called ‘spare-room subsidy’ has consistently come under fire since it was announced by the government. The tax targets those people claiming housing benefit and who are living in social housing, but who have more bedrooms than they need. The government intends to cut their housing benefit by 14 per cent for one spare bedroom. It will also cut benefits by 25 per cent for two or more spare bedrooms.
David Orr is chief executive of the National Housing Federation. He told The Guardian: “The bedroom tax is an unfair and perverse tax which will hit hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people living in social housing around the country.”
The government recently announced some changes to the policy in response to heavy criticism. Foster carers and people working away from home in the armed forces will now not be affected by the bedroom tax. Many feel that this is not enough, however – pointing out that people with disabilities will still be affected.
Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith is the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. In a statement issued on 12 March, he said: “I am also issuing guidance to local authorities emphasising that Discretionary Housing Payments remain available for other priority groups including the needs of people whose homes have had significant disability adaptations and those with longterm (sic) medical conditions that create difficulties in sharing a bedroom.”
According to some, this simply isn’t enough. David Orr continues: “The Department for Work and Pensions’ continued claim that discretionary housing payments (DHP) will protect all of the most vulnerable is simply not true. Even if DHP was divided equally among those receiving disability living allowance, they would receive only £2.51 a week, compared with an average loss of £14 per week. It doesn’t add up.”
The impact on people with epilepsy
Nicole Crosby-McKenna is Epilepsy Action’s campaigns and policy officer (welfare and women). Nicole says: “Epilepsy Action will seek further clarification on these changes. We will also continue to campaign for changes to the exemptions of ‘bedroom tax’. The loss of payment should not apply to people with disabilities and the families that care for them.
“We are particularly concerned that some people with a real need for a ‘spare’ bedroom due to their epilepsy will be unfairly targeted. For example, some people live alone and have periods of uncontrolled seizures. These people may use the spare bedroom to have a friend, family member or carer stay during the night.
“The families of adult children with epilepsy may be in a similar situation. They might need a spare bedroom so that their son or daughter can temporarily stay with them during periods when their seizures are uncontrolled.
“The DHP is a special fund given to local councils. The council can use this money to help people pay their housing costs. However, councils are only given a fixed amount of money for the year. This means that once this money has been used up, the council won’t be able to award any more DHP help.
“Some readers may be affected by these changes – for example, by having their housing benefit reduced. We advise these people to apply to their local council for DHP as soon as possible.”