The government’s admission that thousands of people hit by the “bedroom tax” have had their housing benefit cut by mistake is yet another “complete farce” caused by the Department for Work and Pensions, say disabled activists.
Campaigners fear that many of those affected by the error could already have been evicted or forced to move home, with research suggesting that about two-thirds of people hit by the bedroom tax are disabled.
The government’s “spare room subsidy removal” (SRSR) policy – known by its opponents as the bedroom tax – was introduced last April and punishes tenants in social housing financially if they are assessed as “under-occupying” their homes.
But this week DWP was forced to release a housing benefit “urgent bulletin”, confirming that anyone who has continuously claimed housing benefit on the same property since before 1 January 1996 should never have been subject to SRSR.
DWP claimed today (9 January) that this would affect “fewer than 5,000 people”, because many long-term claimants would now be over pensionable age and therefore would not have been subject to SRSR.
But one campaigning blogger who has helped spread news of the DWP error has estimated that more than 40,000 households could be affected. Many of them will be owed hundreds of pounds in arrears.
As disabled people are less likely to move home, it is probable that most of these 40,000 households will contain a disabled person.
Anne McMurdie, of Public Law Solicitors, which is representing three disabled people in a legal battle to secure exemption from SRSR for disabled adults who need their own bedrooms for impairment-related reasons, said: “Given the qualifying criteria for the protection (ie lengthy continuous occupation and continuous receipt of housing benefit), the class of people currently protected are likely to include a disproportionate number of disabled people.”
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said it was “yet another complete farce initiated by the DWP”.
She added: “This is yet another example of implementing policies which have not been properly thought through.
“It only helps to illustrate the complete chaos DWP is now in with regard to introducing a range of failing initiatives designed to further increase the despair disabled people are facing every day.”
Asked how this error had been allowed to happen, a DWP spokesman said: “I don’t have the background on that. You are probably very aware of how complex benefit rules and regulations are.”
He said DWP was currently considering what action it needed to take to correct the mistake, such as introducing new regulations.
The bulletin makes it clear that those now eligible to have their housing benefit recalculated will be reassessed and have the SRSR reapplied “once the legislation is amended”.
9 January 2014