Disabled members and the “spare bedroom tax”

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2013 National Disabled Members' Conference
7 June 2013

Conference notes the changes to Housing Benefit Legislation which is leading to additional pressure on those renting in the private sector. Disabled people over the last decade have been made to make hard decisions about the appropriateness of their accommodation due to the restrictions of housing benefits which prevents them having an extra bedroom. This has led to many facing financial hardship by having to supplement their housing benefit. The Local Housing Allowance (LHA) restriction to that of one room in a shared house for single people under 35 has led to an increase in rent arrears and homelessness.

Changes in Housing Benefit legislation has meant that from April 2013, tenants living in social housing (from local authorities and registered Housing Associations) will have a reduction of up to 25% in their Housing Benefit if it is deemed that they are under-occupied. This can be from an elderly couple whose children have grown up and moved out to a couple with a small spare bedroom.

Conference welcomes the unanimous ruling in the Court of Appeal that the size criteria in the housing benefit regulations discriminate against disabled people, because they do not allow for an additional room to be paid for where a disabled person has a carer, or where that additional room is required to store equipment which is essential for their disability.

The decision concerned a couple who needed 24 hour care, which required carers to work in shifts and a claimant who has two disabled daughters who cannot share a room because of the nature of their disabilities.

The Secretary of State has applied for permission to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court on the grounds that the use of the size criteria in the LHA is either not discriminatory or else can be justified.

On that note, Conference also cautiously welcomes the change in guidance to local authorities to allow an extra bedroom for children who cannot share a room because of the nature of their disability. However, this guidance has not been reflected in changes to the legislation and this will mean that local authority employees, who may have little medical knowledge, have to interpret evidence to decide whether children could share a room due to the nature of their disability.

With further changes in the near future and some that have already taken place with the implementation of Universal Credit, changes in Disability Living Allowance (DLA) changes to Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) and the time limitation on the contribution based Employment Support Allowance (ESA), this will have a huge effect on disabled members who are also lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).

Many LGBT people, particularly young LGBT people, have to move to urban areas in order to find support networks. Those in low-paid transient work are hard hit and may have to choose between staying in an unsafe home environment or moving to potentially unsupportive shared housing. This will also badly affect disabled peoples’ needs which may not be meet by the housing choices made available to them.

Many disabled people who are not in receipt of the middle or higher rate of the care component of DLA but still may need an extra bedroom due to their disability will have a detrimental effect on their weekly budget. LGBT people not out to their homophobic, transphobic or biphobic families may rely on an additional room in the house.

With anecdotal evidence showing that landlords are less willing to take tenants in receipt of Housing Benefit and the limited stock of social housing, there are an ever smaller number of affordable properties.

Conference calls on the National Disabled Members’ Committee to:

1)Campaign with appropriate bodies, including internal UNISON bodies, against the implementation of these policies.

2)publicise UNISON welfare, advice lines and appeals;

3)Monitor and publicise developments in this area which impact on disabled members including disabled LGBT members.

4)Campaign with appropriate bodies, including internal UNISON bodies, to remove the injustice that already exists in the housing benefit system for private sector tenants.