New housing benefit needs ‘urgent reform’


A new system of housing benefit is discriminating against severely disabled people, a charity has told a committee of MPs.

The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign (MDC) has called for “urgent action” to reform the local housing allowance (LHA), which last year replaced housing benefit for new tenants in private accommodation.

The Commons work and pensions select committee launched an inquiry last month into how LHA was operating.

MDC, which has submitted evidence to the committee, says LHA does not allow extra payments to disabled people who need space for a live-in care worker.

Single disabled people receiving 24-hour care are only eligible for one-bedroom flats, even if they need a separate bedroom for overnight staff.

MDC says the new rules “unintentionally discriminate against some of the most severely disabled people who depend on live-in care support”.

The charity also criticised the government’s failure to carry out an “impact assessment” of how the new system would affect disabled people before it was introduced.

The new rules also discriminate against disabled adults who need a larger home because of bulky equipment or adaptations, and affect many families with disabled children who are unable to share a bedroom with a sibling, says MDC.

In its evidence to the committee, it says the “restriction of space for carers and essential equipment can have an enormous impact on both quality of life and independence” of severely disabled people.

The government has said that disabled tenants can seek extra discretionary housing payments (DHP) from their local council, but MDC says tenants can only apply for such grants after they have moved in, councils only have a limited DHP budget, and the payments can be withdrawn at any time.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said that disabled people who need a carer can secure help from other benefits such as disability living allowance or attendance allowance or apply for a DHP or seek other council support, for instance from social services.

She added: “The Government intends to publish a wide-ranging consultation paper on housing benefit reform shortly.

“This is expected to cover a number of aspects of LHA including the size criteria and the impact of those criteria on different groups.”

18 November 2009