It has not been an easy year for disabled people. Local authorities are squeezing social care support to the bare bone, living costs are spiraling and many disabled people are worried about the changes in welfare benefit from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
The ‘bedroom tax’, a term routinely used to describe the governments ‘under occupancy charge’ or ‘spare room subsidy’, is a nationwide change in the way housing benefit entitlement is calculated. If tenants are assessed as having a ‘spare room’ they will see a reduction in their overall housing benefit of 14 per cent, or 25 per cent if the tenant has two ‘spare rooms’.
The change follows the government’s strategic aim to shift the place of social support in society and has been implemented at a stage where the welfare budget has already suffered vast and devastating cuts. Tenants who cannot afford to make up the shortfall in rent face developing rent arrears and eventual eviction from their homes.
This has had a huge impact on the deafblind people Sense legal services works with. To put it in context, as part of our work, our legal team gives daily advice on a variety of issues including benefits, social care and education. However, over the past year, they have seen a significant increase in the number of calls received from deafblind people and their families, some of whom struggling to make ends meet and fearful of being forced to leave their homes. The resulting state of limbo that this benefit is causing for disabled people is simply unacceptable.
The ‘bedroom tax’ policy has had a disproportionate impact on disabled people: many have been found to have a so called ‘spare room’ despite requiring it because of their disability. Deafblind people may require overnight carers to stay at their home and whilst there is already an exemption from the bedroom tax on these grounds the amount of care required to fit within this exemption is not defined by law. This has led to confusion and an inconsistent application of the policy.
Not every set of circumstances affecting disabled people benefit from a similar bedroom tax exemption. For example, where a separate room is required for other reasons associated with the tenant’s disability the exemption does not apply. Deafblind people often require a wide range of often very expensive equipment, from braille displays to magnifying equipment. This needs to be stored safely and often a separate room in addition to any living areas will be required for this purpose. A person with visual impairments cannot live in a cluttered and cramped environment: it is simply not safe. In addition, it is not uncommon for a deafblind person to have other health complications and from time to time need extra support. They may also need to rely on family and friends to be able to come and stay before a hospital appointment or during times when a greater level of communication support is needed. This support is vital for a deafblind person.
We are calling on the Government to review the bedroom tax and prevent more disabled people suffering needlessly. Anyone struggling with the bedroom tax should contact Sense Legal services on 0300 330 9250 (voice and textphone) or email@example.com for accessible information and expert advice.
Kari Gerstheimer is Head of Legal services for Sense and Sense International