The government must think again on fresh cuts to housing support
4 February 2015
by Rosanna Singler
More bad news for disabled people affected by the ‘bedroom tax’: there is now even less money available to help cover the costs. The fund that people can apply for if has just been reduced by a quarter — £40 million less than before.
For the last two years, many disabled people receiving housing benefit and living in council houses have had less money to live on because of the spare room subsidy, also called the bedroom tax. If someone has one more bedroom than the government says they need, they will lose on average £14–16 of their housing benefit per week. This might not sound much but it could add up to more than £800 per year. And two-thirds of people affected by the tax are disabled.
The government introduced this policy to encourage people to move out of larger council homes to make room for families who need the space. This isn’t what happened though. Fewer than 1 in 20 of the people affected by the changes have actually moved. Instead, 6 in 10 people — that’s over 300,000 — are behind with their rent.
This isn’t surprising when we know that disabled people will often need an extra room to store vital equipment, or for care workers to stay over. These rooms aren't 'spare' and they aren't luxuries; they're necessities. Even those who don’t need the room may struggle to move as there is a severe shortage of disabled-friendly homes to move into.
Following pressure from disabled people, the government set aside some money for people who cannot move and cannot afford to pay this ‘tax’. These are called ‘Discretionary Housing Payments’. But there is not enough in the pot to be able to cover everyone affected, so there is no guarantee that you will get the money you need. If you do get any money, it's only temporary — perhaps only for 6 months — and then you will have to apply again.
With the fund shrinking smaller still, it is even less likely that disabled people will be able to get hold of the money they need to cover the shortfall in their rent. Instead disabled people will be forced to spend money on rent that they desperately need for their heating, taxis to get them to hospital appointments, money for specialist wheelchairs or to get help around the home.
We know that these changes to housing benefit are leaving disabled people at risk of losing their homes. The government’s own research has found that almost 6 in 10 (57 %) people affected said they are cutting back on household essentials, meaning that disabled people are skipping meals and going without heating.
The government says these cuts are essential to making the system fairer and will help them to save £2 billion. We disagree. It is clear these cuts are having a negative effect on disabled people and threatening their ability to remain independent. Until the government investigates the impact of the bedroom tax on disabled people we urge them to think again about this funding cut.
Rosanna Singler is Leonard Cheshire Disability’s policy officer.
This article was updated on 17 February 2015 to clarify the amount of housing benefit people could lose.