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.
“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
Cash-strapped North councils have diverted more than £300,000 of funds to top up Government help for those left reeling by the bedroom tax.
Welfare reforms have seen changes made to benefits which have forced many to seek smaller housing while scores of others struggle to pay their rent.
Thousands applied for Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) cash payments to get by, but now many councils have spent over the amount allocated by Government and have had to find extra funds from elsewhere.
Fears are also spreading the situation could get worse as authorities may be even more out-of-pocket next year when the Government will cease to offer DHP funding.
Hartlepool Council had one of the highest deficits – £115,239 – with the total spent on DHP hitting almost half-a-million pounds.
In Gateshead, the overspend was £90,000, after the authority spent £583,000. Chiefs will now bid for extra DHP cash as the council foresees a further shortfall.
Sunderland City Council spent £690,000 and had a shortfall of £32,000. North Tyneside Council reported an underspend while Durham County Council was granted additional DHP funds to cope with demand.
In Middlesbrough the figure was £37,420, Redcar and Cleveland spent £5,000, while Stockton was the lowest over their allocated funds at £932.
Both Hartlepool and Middlesbrough councils said they met the shortfall by using money from the Local Welfare Provision (LWP), which can also be used to help people struggling with welfare reforms.
But the LWP will also be removed by the Government from April 1, 2015.
South Tyneside Council was left with a shortfall of £8,000 after granting £314,000 worth of DHP applications.
Meanwhile Newcastle City Council – which by far paid out the most DHP grants at £1.5m – was granted an additional £861,000 in DHP cash from the Government to cope with almost 3,000 applications.
Coun Dave Budd, Middlesbrough’s Deputy Mayor and executive member for resources, said: “The Coalition Government’s welfare reforms have placed a great many people in real hardship.
“From a very early stage we have been working with many partners – including local housing providers and the Citizens Advice Bureau – to address issues which can have a devastating effect on people’s lives.
“With the removal of the funding for the Local Welfare Provision from April next year, it will become even tougher to help those most in need. However, we will continue to do everything in our power as a local authority to mitigate those impacts.”
Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Redcar Anna Turley highlighted the situation, saying: “David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s bedroom tax has been a disaster for the hundreds of thousands of people hit by the cruel levy and it has come at a huge cost for local taxpayers.”
However, the DWP says more than £20m specifically earmarked to help people adapt to welfare reforms was not spent by UK local authorities last year.
Figures show almost two-thirds (63%) of councils paid out less than their total DHP allocation to tenants.
A spokesman for Hartlepool Council said: “The council recognises the significant detrimental impact that the bedroom tax is having on households and as a council we are doing everything possible to ease the pain for residents.
“In 2013/14, the Government’s introduction of the bedroom tax resulted in reduced housing benefit entitlements in Hartlepool of over £1m and affected over 1,400 households.”
Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord Freud, said: “We tripled support for vulnerable people to £180m last year to ensure the right help was in place during our far-reaching welfare reforms.
“The figures also show that recent scare stories about councils running out of money were grossly exaggerated.
“Our vital reforms are fixing the broken welfare system by restoring fairness for hardworking people and making sure work always pays, as part of our long-term plan.”
> The long-term plan evidently being to return Britain to being a feudal society…
Source – middlesbrough Evening Chronicle, 31 Aug 2014
Two-thirds of households in England affected by the bedroom tax have fallen into rent arrears since the policy was introduced in April, while one in seven families have received eviction risk letters and face losing their homes, a survey claims.
The National Housing Federation (NHF) said its survey demonstrated that the bedroom tax was “heaping misery and hardship” on already struggling families who were unable to pay their rent but unable to find anywhere cheaper to live because of a shortage of smaller homes.
The NHF survey is one of three separate reports published on Wednesday which collectively criticise the design and implementation of the bedroom tax and highlight the negative impact it has had on the lives of many of the 522,000 people in the UK who are subject to it.
The disability charity Papworth Trust says that a third of disabled people affected by the tax have been refused emergency financial help, despite government guidance that disabled people who live in adapted homes get first call on discretionary housing payment funding.
The trust said many disabled people who have been refused emergency payments – which are intended to provide short-term financial relief to those struggling to cope with the bedroom tax – were now cutting back on essentials such as food or household bills. It called on ministers to exempt people living in adapted properties from the tax.
Meanwhile, the Labour party has published the results of a freedom of information request which shows the number of tenants wrongly subjected to the bedroom tax as a result of drafting errors in legislation is nearly 50,000 – at least 10 times as many as official estimates.
Chris Bryant, the shadow minister for welfare reform, said information from a third of councils showed that 16,000 people were affected by the error, which affects working age tenants in social housing who have occupied the same home continuously since 1996.
The reports herald a day of parliamentary activity around the bedroom tax. A bill to abolish the tax will be introduced by Labour backbench MP Ian Lavery, while Lord Freud, the welfare minister, will appear before a committee of MPs to answer question on a raft of welfare reforms.
Lavery said he believed that the bedroom tax had caused the most visible poverty and heartache of all the coalition’s welfare changes. “I have seen with my own eyes the absolutely astounding impact the bedroom tax has on disabled and sick people. I’m not sure the government is aware of the hardship and misery it has caused. We are talking about ordinary people who have been forced to move from the homes where they have spent a lifetime raising their kids. They have been cast out like dogs in the night.”
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said: “We are determined to support those who might need extra help through these necessary reforms. That is why we have tripled the extra funding given to councils this year to £190m – some of which is specifically targeted at disabled people – and have announced that £165m will be available for councils next year to help vulnerable tenants.”
It said the NHF could not prove whether the rise in tenant rent arrears was accounted for by the bedroom tax alone.
The bedroom tax – also known under its official names of “spare room subsidy” or “under-occupation penalty” – affects 660,000 housing benefit claimants living in social housing across the UK. Introduced last April, the policy imposes an average penalty of between £14 and £22 a week on working-age tenants deemed to have more bedrooms than they need.
NHF chief executive David Orr said: “From day one we have said the bedroom tax is unfair, unworkable and just bad policy. It’s putting severe pressure on thousands of the nation’s poorest people and must be repealed.”
This article was written by Patrick Butler, social policy editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 12th February 2014.
Source – Welfare News Service 12 Feb 2014