EMERGENCY BUDGET: Benefit change welcomed but housing crisis remains


New rules announced in this week’s emergency budget will allow disabled people who need an extra bedroom for a personal assistant to claim housing benefit for the additional cost.

Campaigners had complained that the rules on local housing allowance (LHA) –which determine how much housing benefit is paid to those renting from private landlords – do not allow disabled people who need an overnight support worker to claim for the cost of an extra bedroom.

Councils can make “discretionary” payments to cover the extra costs, but these are short-term and only paid if the council has sufficient funds.

The disabled Labour peer Baroness Wilkins had told the Commons work and pensions committee that the rules were causing “real hardship and loss of control”.

The chancellor, George Osborne, announced in his budget statement that the government would now “cover the cost of an additional room for those claimants with a disability who need a carer”.

Budget documents released on the same day reveal that the change will be introduced from April 2011.

Despite widespread criticism of the impact of other budget measures on disabled people, the LHA announcement was welcomed by disabled people’s organisations.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, said:  “This is something RADAR has campaigned for and we are delighted the government has listened on this significant issue for people who face considerable disadvantage.”

But RADAR warned there was still a “real housing crisis facing disabled people”, with a shortage of accessible, affordable housing.

The charity said that LHA restrictions announced in the budget – saving £1.8 billion a year by 2015 – could “drive disabled people further into inaccessible housing, making them prisoners in their house”.

The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) – a coalition of disability and welfare advice organisations – also welcomed the move to allow disabled people to claim housing benefit for an extra room for an overnight support worker.

But it joined RADAR in warning that the package of housing benefit cuts announced in the budget “risks leaving many disabled people unable to afford suitable accommodation”.

Rebecca Rennison, senior policy officer at Leonard Cheshire Disability and co-chair of the DBC policy group, said that LHA provides “vital support to many disabled people on low incomes”.

She added: “If the government is serious about tackling disability poverty it has to ensure that all disabled people are able to access suitable and affordable housing.”

24 June 2010

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