Urgent changes needed to housing benefit rules, say MPs


New housing benefit rules are creating a “real barrier to independent living” for disabled people and should be changed urgently, according to a committee of MPs.

The Commons work and pensions committee said there was “clear evidence” that the rules on local housing allowance (LHA) were causing serious problems for disabled people.

LHA was rolled out nationally for new claimants in the private rented sector from April 2008, as part of the government’s welfare reforms.

But LHA rules do not allow disabled people to claim for an extra bedroom if they need it to allow a personal assistant to stay overnight.

Although councils can make discretionary housing payments (DHPs) to cover the additional needs of disabled people in rented accommodation, these are short-term and only paid if the council has sufficient funds available.

Citizens Advice told the committee’s inquiry into the LHA that to expect disabled people to cope with such insecurity with their housing was “just not acceptable”, while the Local Government Association argued that councils “do not have enough money in many cases to meet such extra needs from DHPs”.

The disabled Labour peer Baroness Wilkins told the committee that the system was “causing the disabled people affected real hardship and loss of control” and demanded “urgent action” from the government.

Warwickshire and Coventry Council of Disabled People said the effect of the new system was “directly the opposite” of government policy in its Independent Living and Putting People First strategies.

The committee said it remained “very concerned”, and pointed to the continuing failure of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to produce an equality impact assessment for the new policy, or show how it was complying with the Disability Discrimination Act’s disability equality duty (DED).

It called for an urgent change to the rules to “allow for reasonable adjustments for disabled people”.

A spokeswoman for the DWP said it would respond to the report “shortly”, but a consultation earlier this year included a proposal that some disabled people should receive an LHA rate that reflected their need for an extra room, and produced “feedback from a lot of people”.

She added: “We are aware there is concern about it. Plans for across-the-board housing benefit reform will be coming out later this year. That element could very well be part of it.”

She said the DWP believed its DED obligations had been met through a regulatory impact assessment carried out alongside the introduction of the welfare reform bill that led to the introduction of LHAs.

31 March 2010

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