Meet the Newcastle family hit by the Bedroom Tax and who are fighting to get it abolished

The reason why so many people in the North East are against the Bedroom Tax can be answered by what’s happened to Ray O’Connor and his wife Bridget.

Bridget suffered a stroke in 2011 and as a result needs round-the-clock care in the three bedroomed home in Walker, Newcastle, she and Ray have shared for eight years.

Because of her disabilities, one of their bedrooms has been adapted for her needs with a hospital sized bed and specialist equipment thanks to a £15,000 grant.

As a result Ray sleeps in the second room while their third room is used by carers who stay overnight to help with Bridget’s care.

With the introduction of the tax, it at first looked like they would lose 25% of their housing benefits for the rooms used by Ray and his wife’s carers.

They successfully fought against the carer’s room but are still left with the threat of losing £11 a week in housing benefits for Ray’s room.

After advice from their social landlord, ISOS Housing, they successfully applied to Newcastle City Council for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) to cover the shortfall but they have to re-apply every few months, rather than have a long term or permanent exemption.

Their situation was used as a test case to challenge the Bedroom Tax in court, but the attempt failed.

Ray, 56, explained:

“The judge said he’d checked and checked but the wording of it was that if you were married you had to stay in the same bedroom.

“ISOS and Newcastle City Council have been brilliant, with the advice they have given and the help with the filling in of the forms for the discretionary payment.

“But there is just so much they can do. This payment looks like ending after the next election if the Conservatives get in.

“If we have to move to a two bedroomed house I’ll still have to pay the bedroom tax on one of them because it will be classed as mine.

“If we moved to a one bedroomed house – if there is one available – I’ll have to sleep on the sofa and share the room with the carer.”

Ray and Bridget’s situation is further complicated by the fact that a stipulation of the £15,000 grant was that they had to stay in the house for five years after the work – until 2017. If they move out earlier, they’ll have to pay a percentage of it back.

“I don’t know what the amount is but that will have to come out of our benefits,” said Ray.

He added:

“I think the Bedroom Tax is disgusting and should be scrapped. It puts so much pressure on people like us.

“In the court hearing the council was asked by the judge if there were any more cases like ours and they told him there were plenty. They been hoping to successfully challenge it through our case but that isn’t going to happen because of the specific wording of it.

“We had hoped this was our home for life. The harm it is doing to vulnerable families is unforgiveable – where is the money that it is supposed to be saving going to go?”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 01 Apr 2015

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