Charity boss urges minister to lift block on £15m aid.
Citizens Advice Scotland has today written to the UK Government urging them to enable an extra £15m in assistance to Scots affected by the Bedroom Tax.
The Scottish Government is ready to spend the extra money, but is unable to do so because of UK government spending limits. In today’s letter to UK Welfare Minister Lord Freud, CAS reveal that in the eight months since the Bedroom Tax was introduced, Scottish CABs have seen a 29% increase in Housing Benefit issues.
Publishing the letter, CAS Chief Executive Margaret Lynch says,
“These figures very clearly show that this change is having a huge impact on people in Scotland. And those affected include some of the most vulnerable groups in our society – like disabled people and separated families.
“We are urging the UK government to exempt these groups from this charge altogether. But in the meantime, if there is money available to soften the blow on these people then it should be spent.
“Anyone who is affected by the Bedroom Tax can get free advice from their local CAB or from our national helpline 0808 800 9060.”
The CAS letter to Lord Freud is appended below.
Notes to editors - click to expand/collapse
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
Department of Work and Pensions
5 February 2014
Dear Lord Freud,
Removing the overall limit for Discretionary Housing Payment spending
In light of the recent announcement by the Scottish Government that it is willing to commit an additional £15 million to Scottish local authorities’ Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) funds if the overall limit on additional contributions could be removed by your department. I understand that the Deputy First Minister has also written to you on this issue and CAS supports her request. I therefore write to you to ask you to remove the limit to allow this funding to be spent.
I have brought to your attention before, the concern that Citizens Advice Scotland has about the effect of the introduction of the under-occupation penalty on vulnerable households in Scotland. In the first eight months since the criteria was introduced, citizens advice bureaux in Scotland have advised on 13,783 new Housing Benefit issues – an increase of 29% on the same period in the previous year. CAB have dealt with 1,735 new issues specifically related to the penalty, and issues relating to local authority and Registered Social Landlord rent arrears have increased by 34% and 47% respectively.
As you know CAS believes that particular groups should be exempt from the reduction in housing benefit entitlement altogether. We believe it would be much fairer and cost-effective to simply change the criteria to exclude certain groups from the under-occupation penalty in the following circumstances: where the home has been significantly adapted to meet a member of the household’s needs; if the household includes a couple who are unable to share a bedroom due to medical conditions; if a room is required for medical treatment or for storing bulky or substantial medical equipment that could not be stored elsewhere; and in temporary homeless accommodation owned by local authorities.
However, as it stands households in this situation must apply for DHP awards, which are not always granted and tie up funds that could be used to support other households who are not currently a priority for support. These include separated families where single parents require a room to maintain access agreements, and tenants whose rent arrears caused by the reduction in housing benefit result in the threat of eviction, unmanageable debt or borrowing from high-interest payday lenders to cover their housing costs.
In addition, there is a burden placed on local authorities who must administer the DHP system and equally on agencies such as Citizens Advice Bureaux which support clients with their applications for DHP.
Citizens Advice Scotland welcomes your continued support for DHPs and also your new guidance on the issue. However we equally support the Scottish Government in its aim to mitigate the impact of the under-occupation penalty on vulnerable tenants by increasing its support to DHPs through additional funding.
I therefore urge you to remove the cap on the overall limit so allow the Scottish Government to increase their funding for additional Discretionary Housing Payment support.
Citizens Advice Scotland
CASE STUDIES – BEDROOM TAX
These cases below are all from Scottish CABs over the last few months. Please note these are all anonymous as CAB client data is always treated as strictly confidential unless the client indicates that they are willing to talk about their case. We do not currently have any clients who are willing to be identified or interviewed, but these cases are a good representative sample the sort of issues that people are dealing with through this policy.
- A West of Scotland CAB reports of a 55 year old client who moved into a two bedroom tenancy a year ago that allows her to have her carer stay every second night as she has severe health issues. These include lung disease, liver disease, anaemia, and psychosis. She has now been told that she is under-occupying her tenancy. The client does not leave the house other than for hospital visits, and her carer visits every day.
- A South of Scotland CAB reports of a client with Multiple Sclerosis who lives in a housing association tenancy with two bedrooms. The client states that she needs an extra bedroom as she needs someone to stay overnight – either a friend or her brother stays at the weekend and her parents are there during the week. However, she has been told that she is under-occupying her tenancy. The client has poor balance and mobility and has to use a wheelchair at times. Her brother comes in to cook her evening meal as she burnt herself last year. The client is upset about the situation and feels that this is having an adverse effect on her health.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of client and her husband who are both registered disabled and live in a two bedroom home that has been adapted for them. They have been advised by the local authority that they will have to pay £56 per month in rent as they are under occupying their home. The client is registered blind and expects to be given a guide dog in the next few months. The client had a letter from her GP confirming her requirement for “a second bedroom for her own personal medical reasons”. The bureau helped the client to apply for a DHP.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who had received a letter from his housing association regarding changes to Housing Benefit. The client lives in a two bedroom house with his wife, but will receive less benefit as he is considered to be under occupying his tenancy. The client sleeps separately from his wife because of a medical condition which resulted from a stroke some years previously.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a single parent of two young children who is affected by the ‘bedroom tax’. The client lives in a three bedroom tenancy with her six year old son, who has autism, and her daughter who is five years old. The client was allocated the property on medical grounds due to the disruption caused to the client’s daughter when she is sharing a room with her brother. The client receives carers allowance and DLA to look after her son.
- A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who lives in a two bedroomed tenancy as his son stays with him two nights per week. He has been advised that he is under occupying his tenancy and that this will leave him needing to pay £8 per week, which he cannot afford. The client’s son is 11 and has become much closer to the client since he has been coming to stay with him. The client is worried that he will be forced to move to a one bedroom flat and his son will no longer be able to spend nights with him.
- A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who was homeless and on the waiting list for a one bedroom flat. After his son was born six months ago, his girlfriend wrote a letter to the local authority asking for the client to be allocated a two bedroom house as he would be caring for the child for part of the week. The client now lives in a two bedroom tenancy with his son staying with him for 4 days a week. His Housing Benefit notification shows that he now has a reduction of 14% and must pay almost £10 per week in rent. The client is in receipt of ESA and cannot afford the additional amount.
- A Central Scotland CAB reports of a 59 year old client affected by the under occupancy changes who has lived in the same house in a village for 51 years. The client has received a letter from the local authority stating that she will have to pay 25% of her Housing Benefit, amounting to £16 per week. The client has lived in the village all her life and considers her neighbours to be her family. There are no one bedroom houses in the village so she will have to leave, which she is finding very upsetting. The bureau calculated that the change would leave the client £25 a week for food and travel after essential costs.
- A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who was in tears in the bureau as a result of the impact of the ‘bedroom tax’. The client claims JSA and lives alone in a three bedroom council tenancy. After the additional £34 she is paying in rent per fortnight, plus her gas/electricity charges, she is only left with £10 to live on, some of which must be used to pay for bus fares to the Jobcentre. The client was very upset about the whole issue and was desperate for some sort of help. She claimed not to have been able to afford to eat for the past five days because of the new ‘bedroom tax’ draining her resources. However, the client does not wish to move home as she feels that if she left the village she would never see her grandchildren again, as her son died in 2007 and she is trying to maintain contact.
- A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who is struggling to afford food as a result of under-occupancy changes. The client is in receipt of ESA and DLA. She has paid £62 towards her rent this month which is now the difference between her Housing Benefit payments and her rent. As a result, the client is left with no money and will not receive another payment for several days. The client has unsuccessfully applied for Discretionary Housing Payment. The client states that she has no money for food and asked for advice on receiving a food parcel. The client now has a food parcel that will last a week and the bureau has set up fortnightly payments so the client won’t be left without any funds. However, the client is still likely to struggle with her finances.