Landlords will do what they can to help under-occupying tenants, but concerns remain for disabled tenants, says Brian Simpson
Beating the bedroom tax
At Wirral Partnership Homes we have recently established a Welfare Reform Project Team in response to the significant challenges that the welfare reform agenda has created. Under-occupation currently presents the greatest challenge, so the team has been set up to help our tenants adapt to the new benefit system, and also to minimise the impact of the reforms on our income.
The team has embarked on the sizeable task of making telephone contact with 2,300 tenants (just less than 20 per cent of our total tenancies) who WPH believe will experience a deduction from their housing benefit as a result of under-occupying their home. From the 498 conversations we have completed so far, we have found that 18 per cent would like help to downsize and encouragingly, 48 per cent believe at this point, with the information currently available, they can afford to meet the deduction.
Downsizing is not so much of a problem when families genuinely don’t need a spare room, however in a number of cases the under-occupation deduction risks withdrawing the option for disabled people to live independently within the community. For many, a spare bedroom is a necessity - not only in severe cases that require overnight carers (who will be exempt), but also for those who need to store equipment that helps maintain independence.
WPH has invested considerable funds in helping our disabled residents remain in their own homes, as we are very concerned for those who are forced to downsize to smaller, often unsuitable, properties so as to avoid deductions in housing benefit. This could result in people having to move from adapted homes away from established social and informal support networks and the impact could be devastating for those who rely on such support.
Before the benefit changes we had experienced an increase in the number of families choosing to care for disabled children at home. This is important for the child who can grow up and develop within his or her own family unit, however in these cases families often need as much space as possible and downsizing due to the welfare benefit reforms will significantly increase the existing emotional pressures.
We are very concerned as to how we as a registered provider can help address the impact of the welfare benefit reforms on some of our most vulnerable households.