Is the ‘bedroom tax’ hitting disabled people hardest?


Posted by The Mobility Superstore:

As the government’s austerity programme starts to bite, it seems that people living with disability could be bearing the brunt.

The coalition’s so-called bedroom tax involves cutting housing benefit for those people in social housing with spare bedrooms. But according to a leading housing association, disabled people are paying a disproportionate share of the estimated £550 million-a-year that the government hopes to save.

The study by Habinteg uncovered the disturbing truth – two-thirds of their tenants who have been hit by the bedroom tax are disabled people. And despite the prime minister’s assurances that there would be in-built protections, only a third of Habinteg’s disabled clients have been exempted by their local authorities.

Perhaps more disturbingly, however, is the fact that more than half the housing association’s properties that have been adapted for wheelchair use were not granted exemptions. The study also uncovered evidence of a postcode lottery – as some local authorities have been quicker at granting exemptions from the government’s bedroom tax than others.

This shocking news comes at a time when thousands of disabled people in the UK are having their incomes drastically reduced by the new personal independence payment (PIP).
A great many wheelchair-users are opting to pay the difference in housing benefit out of their own, ever-shrinking incomes – rather than move to a smaller home – because many areas of the country are suffering from a chronic shortage of accessible properties.

Habinteg has also reported widespread inconsistencies in how councils are dealing with applications for discretionary housing payments (DHPs). Three out of four of their tenants have been refused this council-funded payment, yet it seems that almost identical applications in other areas of the UK are being accepted.

The new rules that constitute the bedroom tax stipulate that a couple or adult is allowed a bedroom of their own. However, children under the age of 16 are expected to share if they are of the same gender. While the initial legislation made no differentiation between disabled and non-disabled people, a challenge in the courts forced the government to exempt severely disabled children from this rule – an indication of the haphazard and rushed nature of this punitive legislation.

The rules also stipulate that live-in carers are allowed a bedroom of their own, but spouses who opt to care for their partner will be required to share. There is the option to apply for a DHP, but the claimant must demonstrate the need to sleep in a separate room.

The fact that disabled people and their families could be disproportionately affected by the bedroom tax may constitute a case of discrimination on the grounds of disability – which is clearly illegal. And although a court case heard in the high court failed last year, more cases could follow if the legislation isn’t changed to reflect the unique needs of disable people.

The cumulative effect of cuts to housing benefit and the shortcomings of PIP is hitting disabled people hard. In many cases, these austerity measures are directly impacting the ability to live an independent and dignified life. The government promised that those with profound disabilities would be protected – it’s time politicians followed through on that promise.

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