Friday, 29 May 2015

Pressure leads to bedroom tax concessions

The government has bowed to pressure over its ‘bedroom tax’ and announced plans to amend the regulations to exclude two key groups.

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has announced the government will be amending regulations covering its under-occupation penalty to exclude foster carers and some parents of members of the armed forces.

Foster carers will be allowed an additional room even if they are between placements, and parents who have a child in the armed forces who still lives with them when not on service will also be allowed an extra room.

The changes will apply to tenants in social and private rented housing.

Under the under-occupation penalty, widely known as the ‘bedroom tax’, social tenants of working age who are on housing benefit will have their payments cut if they have one or more spare bedrooms. It is due to be introduced on 1 April.

The government has previously said it is up to local authorities to decide if they will provide some households with support or exemptions to the charge. It has set aside £30 million of discretionary housing payments to cover this.

Mr Duncan Smith said it was always the intention that around 5,000 foster carers and ‘rather fewer’ armed forces groups would be protected through the payments. ‘We have agreed with local authority organisations improved arrangements through these regulations that puts these protections beyond doubt,’ he said.

The Department for Work and Pensions is also publishing guidance today on the use of discretionary housing payments. This emphasises the need to use payments to support disabled people and ‘those with long-term medical conditions that create difficulties in sharing a bedroom’.

Under the criteria to be used by the government, a child under the age of 10 should share with one other child, regardless of gender, and children under 16 should share if they are the same gender.

The government is currently facing a legal challenge to the bedroom tax, brought by 10 children who argue they are unable to share a bedroom because of disabilities and other issues.

David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said the exemptions do not go far enough.

‘Today’s concession is an admission that the bedroom tax is ill-thought and incompetent,’ he said. ‘The government must repeal this ill-conceived policy, but at the very least right now it must exempt disabled and other vulnerable people from these cuts.’

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