Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Bedroom tax and disabled children - question asked at #rdg full council


I've scheduled this post in advance as I don't tweet or blog during council meetings but I know a few people are interested to see how I respond to a question about disabled children and the impact of the bedroom tax.  Below is the question and my answer.

The motion I refer to can be found here.  At the time of writing I am hopeful that there will be cross party or even unanimous support for the motion.  This is because while on many issues there are disagreements of principle between the different parties on the council, the bedroom tax is simply bad policy that is leaving housing professionals, charities and even some Conservative MPs shaking their heads.


COUNCIL MEETING                                                                     26 FEBRUARY 2013

QUESTION NO. 2 in accordance with Standing Order No.9

Gary Saunders to ask the Lead Councillor for Neighbourhoods & Housing:

Disabled Children and the Implications of the Bedroom Tax

With the upcoming bedroom tax I would like to know how this is going to affect all those with disabled children, taking into account that many classed as disabled last month may well not be by April because of the DLA changes.  Is it fair on all children to be forced to live in one room because of the age rule? I know that this won’t affect me but would have made life very hard for my family a few years ago; as a veteran I would like to know how many servicemen will lose their base that they return to on leave and on exit from the forces, will they be expected to pay rent in both places as Reading is a barrack and major recruitment town?

REPLY by Councillor Eden (Lead Councillor for Neighbourhoods & Housing):

Response:

Firstly I’d like to thank you for your service in the military and your continued contribution through the voluntary work you do.

The Bedroom Tax is underpinned by national criteria that will be to assess how many bedrooms a household requires. According to this framework, one bedroom is allowed for the following:

  • every adult couple (married or unmarried)
  • any other adult aged 16 or over
  • any two children of the same sex aged under 16
  • any two children aged under 10
  • any other child (but not foster children or children whose main home is elsewhere, which particularly affects children whose parents are separated)
  • a carer (or team of carers) who does not live with the tenant but provides them or their partner with overnight care on a regular basis.

This is very worrying as amongst other things it does not allow any flexibility to allow an extra bedroom to accommodate a disabled child who is unable to share a bedroom.

There is an on-going legal process about the way the government is dealing with this in the private rented sector and the Court of Appeal found that this criteria discriminated unlawfully and one of the cases was regarding an extra bedroom needed for their disabled child on the grounds of disability. The DWP is currently appealing to the Supreme Court and the outcome of this appeal is pending. The result of this hearing will affect both private sector tenants and those in social housing affected by the Bedroom Tax.

The government currently does not plan to take into account any disability or medical condition when determining whether a household will be subject to the bedroom tax.  This is despite the fact that this council, like many others, takes independent medical advice as to whether a couple require separate bedrooms on disability grounds and on whether a child requires a separate room on disability grounds.

I am very concerned that this puts both parents and couples where one has a disability in a position where they will have to decide whether to follow medical advice about what is best for the family or to downsize because of the financial straits they are in.

The issue of service personnel that still return to their parents’ home when on leave continues to be an issue challenged at a national level by MPs in both opposition and the government benches.  Currently the national government is still saying that, any tenant who is classified as under occupying their property because an adult child is living away in the military will be affected by the Bedroom Tax. We don’t currently know how many of the 1008 households affected in Reading this applies to.

I am proposing a motion to council later this evening which I am hoping will get all party support as many of all political persuasions are raising concerns – any indeed the minister responsible made comments over the weekend suggesting that the government itself is concerned.  I hope council will agree to call on the government to suspend the bedroom tax.  However if they do not I can assure you while this party remains in control we will do all we can to mitigate the worst effects of this policy.  However we are likely to be severely limited in what we can do as the discretionary housing payment is likely to only be able to help a small percentage of those affected.