Latest from Commons Select Committee: Vulnerable people suffering as a result of housing welfare reforms
Reforms to the support provided for housing costs – including the Social Sector Size Criteria (SSSC) (also known as the “Bedroom Tax” and the “Spare Room Subsidy”) and the household Benefit Cap – are causing financial hardship to vulnerable people who were not the intended targets of the reforms and are unlikely to be able to change their circumstances in response, say the Work and Pensions Committee in a report published Wednesday 2 April.
The SSSC is having a particular impact on people with disabilities who have adapted homes or need a room to hold medical equipment or to accommodate a carer. The Committee recommends that anybody living in a home that has been significantly adapted for them should be exempt from the SSSC. The Report further urges the Government to exempt all households that contain a person in receipt of higher level disability benefits (DLA or PIP) from the SSSC.
Dame Anne Begg MP, Committee Chair, said:
“The Government has reformed the housing cost support system with the aim of reducing benefit expenditure and incentivising people to enter work. But vulnerable groups, who were not the intended targets of the reforms and are not able to respond by moving house or finding a job, are suffering as a result.
The Government’s reforms are causing severe financial hardship and distress to vulnerable groups, including disabled people. Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs), which local authorities can award to people facing hardship in paying their rent, are not a solution for many claimants. They are temporary, not permanent, and whether or not a claimant is awarded DHP is heavily dependent on where they live because different local authorities apply different eligibility rules.
Using housing stock more efficiently and reducing overcrowding are understandable goals. But 60-70% of households in England affected by the SSSC contain somebody with a disability and many of these people will not be able to move home easily due to their disability. So they have to remain in their homes with no option but to have their Housing Benefit reduced.”
The household Benefit Cap
The Benefit Cap is having an adverse impact on disabled people and their carers. This is particularly the case where the carer lives with the disabled person, for example a parent or adult child, but is not considered part of the same household for benefit purposes. The Government should exempt all recipients of Carers Allowance in this situation from the Benefit Cap.
Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs)
The Government should review DHP provision when more data are available and increase funding, if necessary, to protect vulnerable people from hardship.
Local authority discretion in granting DHPs is resulting in access to funding depending heavily on where a claimant lives. Some local authorities are taking income from disability benefits into account in the means tests they apply for determining eligibility for DHPs. The Government should issue clear guidance to local authorities that disability benefits should be disregarded in any means tests for DHPs.
People with long term problems such as disabilities, who are unlikely to be able to move house or find work as a response to the reforms might need longer term DHP awards. The Government should issue new guidance to local authorities making explicit that it supports long-term DHP awards for specific categories of claimants. Local authorities will need clarity on DHP funding for at least three years ahead. The Government should announce decisions on DHP funding early so that local authorities can plan effectively.
Dame Anne said:
“Access to DHPs should depend on need, not somebody’s postcode.”
“DHPs will be needed for the foreseeable future to assist people affected by the housing benefit reforms. Local authorities need certainty about what funding the Government will make available for this, for at least the next three years. The Government cannot on the one hand expect local authorities to make longer-term DHP awards and on the other only outline funding levels for the short-term.”
“Disability benefits are intended to cover the extra costs arising from a disability; they are not disposable income. It is inappropriate, therefore, for them to be included in means tests for DHPs.”