Tuesday, 12 March 2013

#BedroomTax: When 'Exempt' Means Nothing of the Sort

It was widely publicised today that, being the caring, sharing, thoroughly Christian minister he is, IDS had made a bunch of concessions on the Bedroom Tax - or 'the Spare Room Subsidy' as IDS prefers it be called in an attempt to convince Daily Mail readers that even our bedrooms are scroungers.

There was a concession on severely disabled children yesterday, followed by another  three concessions today: that bedrooms used for foster care would not be taxed, that bedrooms used by service personnel still living with their families would not be taxed, and that households with disability issues should be considered for exemption (note the lesser treatment of disability). But then you dig past the headlines and into the details and the exemptions turn out to be nothing of the sort. Taking them in turn:

For foster carers, the exemption only applies to a single room, so forget fostering a brother and sister, and only if the foster parents have fostered a child, or been approved to foster, within the last year. There is no guarantee this will be applied to people who become fosterers in future, and a vile comment a couple of weeks ago by Jacob ‘Where’s Nanny?’ Rees-Mogg shows the real Tory attitudes towards people who rely on Social Housing: “If fostering had a general exemption, everybody in receipt of social housing benefit would suddenly go off to the council and say that they wanted to be on the fostering lists, so that they would not have to give up their extra bedroom, but would then refuse any child who was sent to them.” So basically all plebs are lying scroungers, then, Jake?

Meanwhile for serving armed forces personnel still living with their parents (and remember that many front-line troops are still teenagers), the devil is again in the details; their bedrooms will be exempt as long as they are on operations and intend to return home. It’s the‘on operations’ that matters here, you’re only ‘on operations’ if you’re on the front-line in Afghanistan, Mali or the like. If you’re posted to Catterick for training, and live in Cornwall, or garrisoned in Colchester but live in Newcastle, tough, that doesn’t count as ‘on operations’.

It was so obvious that these two provisions would be extremely unpopular that you have to wonder if they weren’t a calculated and pre-planned sacrifice to grease the passage of the other provisions of the Bedroom Tax, which is a pattern of behaviour we’ve seen from IDS before, such as with the threat in the Welfare Reform Bill to remove DLA Mobility Component from people in residential care that was withdrawn at the last moment as a concession by the caring, sharing Tories.

But getting back to the disability-specific changes, this is where we see the true calculation. The exemption announced by IDS yesterday was that:

“where a local authority agrees that a family needs an extra bedroom because their child’s disability means they are unable to share, the family can be entitled to the spare room subsidy in respect of that extra bedroom.

“As with the housing benefit claim, the determination as to whether their disability requires them to have an extra bedroom is a matter for the local authority to decide with the help of Department for Work and Pension guidance and medical evidence.

“We will be issuing final guidance to local authorities on a number of areas this one also this week” 

In other words we’re now going to have disabled children (but not disabled adults, because clearly all the problems of disability disappear the moment you turn 18) facing an ATOS-like process to determine if their disability is severe enough for an exemption, and we all know how well the Work Capability Assessment has worked…. More subtly, the whole responsibility for deciding whether to exempt a disabled child has been pushed down onto local authorities, so that DWP will now be able to say “We don’t make the decisions,” words which have become ATOS’s standard excuse for the failings of the WCA. And all of this in an atmosphere of catastrophic cuts, where councils are looking to save every penny they can, not to be proactive in making sure disabled people don’t face being driven from their homes by the Bedroom Tax.

Today IDS added to that ‘exemption’ with a written statement claiming:
“I am also issuing guidance to local authorities emphasising that Discretionary

Housing Payments remain available for other priority groups including the needs of people whose homes have had significant disability adaptations and those with longterm medical conditions that create difficulties in sharing a bedroom.”

That sounds good, on the surface, but the Discretionary Housing Payments are even worse than a maybe-chance of an exemption. DHP is a solely temporary measure with limited funding, only £25m across the entire country, that has to be shared between every household facing problems with the transition to the Bedroom Tax, whether the issues relate to disability, finances, or whatever. And DHP is very specifically a payment to help with the transition costs of Bedroom Tax only, but not the ongoing year-on-year costs. The average impact of the Bedroom Tax is estimated at £14/week per household, the National Housing Federation has calculated that if the entire DHP fund was spread solely over affected DLA recipients it would amount to only £2.51/week per household. Worse, all DHP payments are at the discretion of the council, and (as was pointed out to me by @theyoungjane) discretionary decisions aren’t subject to appeal, no matter how daft they are. And there are some very daft Tory councils out there.

And all of these changes, some of them requiring very carefully written guidance and that people be trained to apply them with intelligence, compassion, and a deep understanding of disability, are being made three weeks before the Bedroom Tax goes live (which is incidentally the same day 13,000 millionaires get their £100,000 tax cut).

I'll close with a quote from @BendyGirl today that eloquently sums the entire situation up: "Bedroom tax? Stupidest idea evah!"

Update: It turns out that DWP have also dropped an appeal to the Supreme Court today, where they had been trying to overturn a decision by the Court of Appeal in the Gorry case that they must recognise the additional housing needs of a family with one child with Spina Bifida and another with Downs Syndrome. It is good that the action has been withdrawn, but the fact that they ever brought it, in effect seeking legal approval to insist that two very significantly disabled children must share a bedroom, is symptomatic of the true attitudes to disability within DWP. Details here.


  1. Annnnnnd we all know what Local Authorities are like at assessing disability....

  2. My thoughts http://jaynelinney.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/bedroom-tax-u-turn-not-really-but-we-can-force-one/

  3. There are two reasons they have made the concession on disabled children sharing and they have nothing to do with compassion or logic regarding the practicalities of disability

    1) David Cameron explicitly said disabled children were exempt during Prime Minister Questions and it was going to be embarrassing if they weren't. A retroactive cover up, if you want.

    2) If the DWP had lost their case at the supreme court they may have had to backdate payment to all social tenants. This would have been costly and difficult to administer.

    It should be noted that the court case was based on the equality act and on making reasonable adjustments for disability. It follows that the bedroom tax is also unlawful for people who need extra space for medical equipment, occasional overnight care, adults needing separate rooms, etc The same goes for LHA determination in the private sector. As was also pointed out to me on twitter, under the EA one disability cannot be treated more favourably than another.

    I believe therefore that if another court case were to be made for these other situations it is likely to be successful given this precedent.

  4. @Spoonydoc: brilliant analysis! More evidence of why the Tories are trying to hamstring Human Rights legislation such as the Equality Act.

    @JayneL62: Your blog is exactly right, Foster Carers and serving squaddies are seen as 'deserving', disabled children less so, disabled adults much less so. Even the DWP's concession come smeared with their institutional disablism.

    @Anonymous: I'm just worried they'll all contract it out to Atos. Kids facing Atos's toxic hatred...

  5. I suspect one of the hidden agandas here is to root out subletting of social housing - which, of course, will add to the Housing crisis - but never mind, we've got the plebs well and truly over a barrel with this one ....

  6. As far as I'm aware, benefit levels are set at the minimum amount the law says people need to live on, surely the benefits have to go up in line with a charge the government are placing on benefit recipients.

    Also, my rental agreement was signed for a 3 bed @ ?rent, surely this change is forcing new terms within the contract which can be challenged within the courts.

  7. @Elizabeth Cook. I was reading this week that the government themselves say you need £116/wk (IIRC)to live on, which is far more than the basic level of JSA, or even ESA. Meanwhile your rental agreement sets a fee, but housing allowance concerns how that fee is paid, not how much it is, how it is decided on, or the contract itself. It's possible it might raise issues with a contract, but not in a way that would stop the bedroom tax clawback.

  8. Yes I realised after posting it's a separate agreement.
    Even though, the amount of benefit people get is the lowest amount the law says they need to live on. Surely there's a breach of human rights.
    For example: If I was claiming ESA assessment rate of £71 I'm expected to pay £21.21 contribution to rent. Therefore surely there's a case for breach of human rights?