From the TUC

The myths about who is protected from the ‘bedroom tax’

16 Jul 2013, by in Society & Welfare

There has been a great deal of political back-and-forth about the Government’s changes to Housing Benefit variously known as the ‘spare room subsidy’ or ‘underoccupancy penalty’, but mostly as the ‘bedroom tax.’ Often the reporting on the politics does little to reflect the actual impact on families.

In short – if you are living in social housing, receive Housing Benefit and are considered to have a ‘spare’ room, your Housing Benefit will be cut leaving you with a shortfall in your rent. On average, those affected face a shortfall of over £700 a year, which if unpaid, could result in them losing their homes unless they cover the costs themselves or secure discretionary support from their council to do so.

Since the policy was implemented in April we have seen growing evidence that concerns were well founded about the availability of smaller properties for those affected to move to, the impact on the numbers of families facing debt and rent arrears and the extent to which disabled people and their families would be protected.

Disabled people and carers aren’t protected. They’re the hardest hit.

We have been particularly frustrated by media reports and statements in Parliament which imply that all disabled people and carers are protected. They aren’t. In fact, the Government’s own figures show that the majority of households affected include a disabled person.

Limited exemptions do exist which allow for extra rooms for disabled children unable to share with siblings or disabled people who need someone from outside the home to come and stay to provide care. However the majority aren’t exempt and will face a shortfall, including carers unable to share a room with disabled partners, parents of disabled children who need an extra bedroom for overnight care and families who need a room to store medical equipment like dialysis machines, disability lifts or other adaptations.

Rationed discretionary support

For these families, the only recourse is to ask their councils for ‘discretionary housing payments’ to cover the costs, and the Government has given a £25 million pot to local councils designed to protect disabled people affected who really do need the extra space.

But 30 seconds on a calculator shows you that this fund is woefully inadequate.  The Government’s own figures show that 420,000 disabled people are affected by the policy. With an average shortfall of £14 a week, the £25 million is actually only enough for 40,000 people – 1 in 10 of the disabled people affected, and only for one year.

The Government talked about disabled people with significant adaptations to their home being protected. But the National Housing Federation puts the figure of disabled people with adaptations at nearer 100,000 – so the discretionary pot doesn’t even cover this group.

But this also shows a very narrow understanding of why disabled people and their families need additional space. What of the wife caring for her husband with dementia – he can wake up in the night, confused, and lash out at her, thinking she is a stranger. Their house hasn’t been adapted but no-one would dispute her need for her own room?

As a result, with far greater demand than the funds can meet, councils are having to severely ration support to cover the shortfall.

In the last two weeks, Carers UK interviewed 101 carers affected, and less than a quarter of carers had got any discretionary support at all. Only 1 in 10 had got a full year covered – the rest just receiving a few months of support, even though it was clear they needed to stay in their homes permanently. 

The impact on carers not receiving discretionary support and having to cover the shortfall was severe. Three quarters were being forced to cut back on food and electricity to pay the shortfall in rent, and we spoke to carers eating just one meal a day to ensure that their disabled loved ones had enough to eat. One in six were in rent arrears and faced the risk of eviction.

Many were caught in an impossible situation. Unable to move to smaller accommodation because the additional room is essential or because it would mean moving away from friends and families who support them to care, they were also unable to pay the shortfall.

Even those receiving discretionary payments are left with deep feeling of insecurity –  they face having to reapply each year, or even more frequently, for a support to keep them in their homes.

These are families already living with a great deal of fear and uncertainty. Many have been forced to give up work to care for loved ones and are coping with the financial impact of reduced earnings and the extra costs of disability and poor health. In the next few years their disability benefits will also be reassessed as a new system is implemented and stretched social care services also face cuts and increased charges.

We fear that the cumulative impact may leave some families unable to continue to care. Beyond the terrible personal costs for families, for a saving of £14 a week in Housing Benefit, councils and the NHS are going to end up bearing the much greater costs of replacing family care.

In the short term, with discretionary payments giving very limited and often only temporary support, and families facing financial crisis, we have urged the Government to instead exempt carers and disabled people – rather than leave them struggling to access insufficient and insecure discretionary relief.

12 Responses to The myths about who is protected from the ‘bedroom tax’

  1. ajh
    Jul 16th 2013, 2:53 pm

    I am in way affected by the policy,I am far from an expert on social security and I knew the above(very well written thankyou).There is only one conclusion the mainstream media are complicit in engendering the lies and deceptions about it and doing the Government’s bidding.

  2. Yvonne Hyde
    Jul 16th 2013, 5:42 pm

    Absolutely disgraceful especially when there are not enough 1 bedroom flats for these people to move to IF ANY!!!!

    I know someone who has been waiting to be moved to a one bedroom flat for THREE YEARS!! Long before this tax was introduced and still no one bedroom flats to be had.

    GOVERNMENT NEEDS TO GET THEIR ACT TOGETHER AND STOP GIVING THEMSELVES PAY RISES WAY ABOVE INFLATION THAT MIGHT HELP THE ECONOMY – GREED IS A NASTY THING!!!

  3. Tom
    Jul 16th 2013, 6:20 pm

    I share your concern that disabled poeple who need it should be supported in some way such as the discretionary housing payments.

    Whilst the 1 in 10 figure covered appears insufficient do we know how many disabled would fall into the category of needing an additional bedroom for the conditions you describe?

  4. Nicki
    Jul 16th 2013, 8:51 pm

    Whilst I agree in a limited number of cases disabled people and their carers may be disadvantaged, there is another side to the coin. Whilst my husband was terminally ill, I continued to work in addition to being his sole carer. When he got too ill to share a room, I sacrificed my dining room to enable him to have a bedroom downstairs. It is not necessarily the case that a carer has to give up work and be on benefits – it’s much easier, but if you’re determined you can achieve both.

    Why should those of us who work (and sometimes make exceptional efforts to do so), shoulder an additional burden – after all, it is us, the taxpayer, who funds benefits.

    You highlight the disabled, but what about parents whose children have flown the nest and continue to live in a 3-4 bedroom house as a couple…why should I pay for that luxury when I as a working single person face losing my home because I cannot afford it? What about the next generation of families who have children and are privately renting and working? I know of a couple with 2 children in a one bedroom flat, is that fair when there may be couples with 2 or 3 extra bedrooms that they don’t need?

  5. james ferguson
    Jul 16th 2013, 9:13 pm

    Increasing occupancy density reduces many overheads including energy cost per head. A forward thinking environmental policy would motivate multiple occupancy. Other spin off benefits can include transport sharing, food costs etc.

  6. Ricky Manders
    Jul 18th 2013, 1:37 am

    Do not forget, most of the people who are affected by this that are not disabled, are in work, and receive housing benefit as a top-up to the sub living-standard wages that they are paid. Instead of venting your spleen on the poor, why not turn it around and look at the people who are actually benefitting from the social security system the most. The private renting sector, because of the high level of rent, take a disproportionate amount of money in housing benefit. Additionally, the companies paying poverty level wages are having their labour subsidised by working tax credits. Do not buy into the lie that it is all about the poorest in society – they are not the ones making money out of this state of affairs.

  7. Carmen Hayne
    Jul 18th 2013, 10:02 am

    If people who have overnight care are supposed to be exempt, Then why is my council still charging me Bedroom Tax? I have been unable to pay, I have had a notice to seek possession. I am a housebound 54yr young woman. I have been in my home for 21yrs. I get personal care 3 times a day, and another agency does my shopping and domestic as unable to do anything for myself. I am bedridden quite often, in this last week 4 days I was bedridden. That’s when my son stays overnight, and helps me in the night. The Government are breaking Human Rights Laws and Discrimination Laws, if anyone else committed these offences they would be prosecuted, as this is a Criminal Offence. Only the Government are allowed to break the law! Why is this? Surely they should be accountable for their actions? The Government are demonizing the poor and the most vulnerable in Society. We are being treated like we are sub-human, with no rights. It is a wicked and very cruel thing to try and force people out of their homes when they cannot afford to pay the extra bedroom tax. Our benefits were already squeezed With hike up of the cost of living, ie. fuel poverty. So that only leaves food money, people on benefits are starving themselves to pay this bedroom tax. Cannot pluck money out of thin air! Some people cannot starve themselves due to heavy medication where you have to eat food with meds. Has this country have no compassion? Its 3rd world here for the poor people, you might pass a few of them on the streets, evicted because they cannot afford the bedroom tax! Don’t believe everything the Government tells you, as they are the ones who are victimising us and Demonising us, making out we are all scroungers who could work, it’s only the odd few who are trying to wing it, the majority are genuine cases, so what the Government know better than Dr’s? We are not living the life of Riley, us down here in the underclass. Oh and we do pay are Taxes people on benefits. I pay at least £120 in VAT per month, that’s just food and utility bills. So we are Taxpayers. We are being EXCLUDED from society. God help you if you become disabled in this country, nobody knows when disability will will happen, not everyone was born disabled, and when they were able bodied and out there working very hard! This is what will become of you if you had the unfortunate Accident/illness and had to claim benefits. You will be demonized and will be excluded from society with no rights whatsoever.

  8. Carmen Hayne
    Jul 18th 2013, 10:27 am

    Oh and I forgot to say, it’s not our fault that this country is mismanaged, need someone in government who can do their maths! It not my fault there’s a so called shortage, in fact a lot of councils have a large number of 3 bed properties empty, since bedroom tax,nobody wants to rent them because of this tax.(FACT) It’s not our fault that Councils/Housing Associations sold off millions of homes up and down the country and never built new homes to replace them….did they think the population would get smaller? Not to mention the flood of immigrants in and never built new homes to compensate the influx of immigrants, no I am not racist, just thinking common sense, ie. put in infrastructure to compensate the influx of immigrants. ie. hospitals, GP’s, schooling, housing etc etc it’s the Government who are the scroungers, they give themselves Tax Cuts and pay rises. Funded by us the Taxpayer. Oh and not to mention their homes and expenses, again funded by the Tax Payer, oh and the billions of pounds the large conglomerates do in Tax Avoidance. The list is too long to name. It’s always the poor who lose out wether working or on benefits. Minimum wage should reflect the cost of living, Not what you politicians think we can live on, as you have no idea how much it really costs. All this government do is take, take, take off the poorest in society. They are now taking food out of people’s mouths, to fund their pay rises and tax cuts! IS THERE NO COMPASSION LEFT IS THIS COUNTRY?

  9. Steve McIntosh
    Jul 19th 2013, 11:28 am

    Carmen – I’m really sorry to hear that you’re being affected by this. I just wanted to flag up a toolkit Carers UK has put together to help families to challenge decisions. You can find it at http://www.carersuk.org/help-and-advice/help-with-money/benefits-a-tax-credits/bedroom-tax/challenging-a-bedroom-tax-decision and it includes template letters to write to your council with.

    Tom – I’m afraid we don’t have information on the numbers of people who need the additional room because they cannot share with a partner or for overnight care not covered by the existing exemption. We have called for more detailed Government impact assessment to understand this – as it is unclear on what basis the level of the discretionary funding was set and which needs it is supposed to meet.

  10. Brett Snelling
    Jul 20th 2013, 12:56 pm

    I feel there is a real need to pass a law against reckless legislation. It is reckless for any government to pass such a law, knowing full well that there is not sufficient housing stock to meet the demand that it is creating. The politicians are our servants we pay them very well, we have a right to expect more from them. This kind of legislation is either intentionally flawed or the product of a very feeble minded thinking.

  11. Marie Karim
    Jul 21st 2013, 6:40 pm

    With reference to Human Rights; this government wants to change the European version, this is the slippery slope consider how this connects to the court case of parents of disabled kids defending the kids rights using this – coincidence? They use the Communitarian phrases of responsibility trumping individual rights without acknowledging the idea of communities caring.

  12. Mrs Carmen Hayne
    Jul 22nd 2013, 11:29 am

    Thank you Steve for your helpful comment. I have asked a solicitor if she can take my case on, as I have been served with a notice to seek possession. She is finding out wether I can get Legal aid or not. Again that’s a Human Rights issue. I do hope so, because I am mentally and physically exhausted. All this stress is making me very ill, stress can cause flare up of very rare arthritis, effects me anywhere I have bone….Have lost count how many times I have been bedridden, since this awful tax came in. I am totally housebound and physically unable to do things for myself. yes I have carers 3 times daily etc etc. We certainly do not want the government to change our Human Rights Laws, after all they are their to protect everyone. If Government opt out of the European Human Rights Convention. It would mean they could do anything to the poor, but not just the poor, There would be no repercussions and no law to protect us. Already stopped legal aid to people who receive benefits. Where does it end? If that happens we are talking Dictatorship, you know like Hitlers Germany, he picked on the disabled and the poor, demonised them, Making out we are a drain on society, making us feel like we are sub-human with no rights, victimising us etc etc Don’t ned the gas chambers, just this governments policies. 2 professors in 2 different universities carried out a study since ESA was brought out no less than 310,000 claimants have died. Either through suicides or stress causing heart attacks, that’s to name just a couple. I found this out on Facebook and that was back in February. We must not allow this Government to alter our Human Rights. THOSE LAWS ARE THERE TO PROTECT PEOPLE! I mean everyone. It would be a scary thing if this country were to opt out of Europe! Yes I am frightened, wouldn’t you be if you had to leave the family home after 21yrs, I am still grieving the loss of my husband after almost 36yrs, he only died in May last Year, only seems like 6 months. It is WICKED what the government are doing to the poor! There’s lack of any human compassion. Yes it’s very scary, believe you me.