Sunday, 21 December 2014

Spare room belonged to teenager who died in the Hillsborough disaster

Hillsborough mum faces ‘tax’ on dead son’s room

A disabled widow whose teenage son died in the Hillsborough disaster faces a struggle to make ends meet under the ‘bedroom tax’.

Margaret Lewis, 60, who suffers from angina, diabetes and arthritis, never fully recovered from the death of her 18-year-old son Carl in the 1989 tragedy and is still seeking answers.

The subsequent death of her husband Michael in 2009 has left Ms Lewis living alone in her three-bedroom home of 30 years, which is owned by Knowsley Housing Trust. The street she lives on in Kirkby, Merseyside, was renamed after her son.

As of Monday Ms Lewis will have £22 a week docked from her housing benefit because she has two spare rooms - including Carl’s former bedroom - until she turns 62 in April 2014 and becomes a pensioner. She will also be hit by £3.75 per week of council tax benefit cuts.

‘I am terrified, I don’t know how I am going to live,’ she said. ‘I can’t cut back, there’s nothing to cut back, I don’t even cook meals. It [the bedroom tax] affects your health, it adds to your depression. I think there are going to be suicides over this.’

Ms Lewis and her husband Michael had three sons, Carl, who was the oldest, Michael and David. The three sons went to Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough ground to support Liverpool in the 1989 FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest. Poor crowd control led to 96 fans, including Carl, being crushed to death and hundreds more being injured. Michael and David escaped after being lifted to safety by other fans.

‘The family never got over it. [My husband] Michael was never the same, he took to drink, he couldn’t cope,’ she said, adding that Michael would often go and lie in the cemetery near to Carl’s grave.

Knowsley Council in the mid-1990s changed the name of the street from Moorfields to Carl’s Way in memory of the teenager.

The government says people affected by the bedroom tax can boost their income through employment, taking in a lodger or downsizing. But Ms Lewis, who is dependent on benefits, said none of these are realistic options for her.

‘I don’t go out the house, I am not really mobile,’ she added.

She said her depression means she cannot live with a stranger, while she is reluctant to move from the family home, with all her memories of Carl and Michael and happier times.

According to her sister, Teresa Harrison, Ms Lewis is already under intense stress because of her involvement in the fresh inquests into the Hillsborough deaths.

Ms Lewis this week applied to Knowsley Council for a discretionary housing payment to help her pay her rent.

Bob Taylor, chief executive of KHT, said the association will work with Ms Lewis to help her move to a smaller property or increase her income.

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