Could carers be affected by the cap on the total benefits households will be able to receive?
Yes. Although many carers will be protected from the cap because of some exemptions related to the disability benefits of the person they care for, we know that around 5,000 carers in the UK will be affected.
From April 2013, the Government has said that single people will have their total ‘household benefits’ capped at £350 a week, and couples and lone parents at £500 a week.
This ‘household benefit cap’ is different from the ‘cap’ on how much benefits rise each year to take account of rising household bills (‘inflation’) – this is explained in the section on ‘Aren’t benefits being cut across the board?’
What does ‘household’ mean for the ‘household benefits cap’?
This is a very important question – and whilst it may seem obvious, the way that a ‘household’ is defined in the benefits system doesn’t just mean the people who live in the same home.
For the purposes of the benefits system, a ‘household’ is considered to be an adult, their partner (if they have one) and any children they have under 18. If any other adult relatives, like older parents, brothers and sisters or even adult children live in the same house they are considered to be part of a different benefits ‘household’ or unit – even though they live together. The logic of this is that if you are living with your brother or sister, for example, your incomes are separate and you wouldn’t expect any of their earnings or savings to be taken into account by the Government when calculating your benefits. This also applies when children turn 18 – their benefits are seen to be their own independent income and aren’t counted as part of their parents’ benefits package.
So who will see their benefits capped?
Any ‘household’ who has benefits over £350 a week for a single person or £500 a week for a couple or lone parent will have their benefits reduced to those levels. However the Government has said that if someone in the 'household' receives certain benefits the cap will not be applied to that household.
So the cap will not apply if someone in the ‘household’ (an individual, their partner or a child under 18) receives Working Tax Credit, the support component of Employment and Support Allowance, Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment, Attendance Allowance, Industrial Injuries Benefit (and equivalent payments under the War Disablement Pension or Armed Forces Compensation Scheme) or a war widow’s or widower’s pension
This means that many carers should not be affected - because they are caring for a disabled partner or child who receives one of those benefits their benefit ‘household’ will be protected from the cap.
But carers could still be affected if they are caring for an adult disabled child or other adult relative, even if they are living with them. This is because of that definition of a ‘household’. The adult disabled person would not see their own benefits capped if they receive one of the benefits listed above, but this protection from that cap would only apply to them (and if they have a partner or any children themselves). But their protection from the cap would not extend to other people who aren’t treated as being within the same benefits ‘household’ as them.
Here are a couple of examples to illustrate this:
Phillip and Trish care for their disabled son Mark who is 15 and receives Disability Living Allowance. Because all three are considered to be part of the same ‘household’ (because they are a couple and their son is under 18), the fact that Mark receives DLA means that they will all be protected from the cap.
Tony and Christine care for their disabled daughter Jess who is 19 and receives Disability Living Allowance. Jess lives with her mum and dad but her benefits (DLA and Employment and Support Allowance) aren’t considered to be part of the same ‘household’ because Jess is an adult. So whilst Jess’s benefits would not be capped, Tony and Christine could have their benefits capped because no-one in their benefits ‘household’ receives one of the benefits which offer protection from the cap.
In short, people caring for children under 18 and partners receiving one of the protected benefits will not be affected, but if you care for an adult disabled child or another adult who isn’t a partner (a brother, sister, older parent, cousin, aunt or uncle for example) then you are at risk of having your benefits capped, because their benefits wouldn’t offer you protection even if you live together.
This is confusing and complicated, and Carers UK has repeatedly told the Government it is simply unfair to protect some carers but not others just because of a technical detail about how the benefits system works. Carers UK worked with MPs and Members of the House of Lords to fight this, however the Government is pressing ahead with the plans.
We do know that most carers will not be affected by the cap because of these exemptions or because they already receive less than the cap levels. However the Government has told us that over 5,000 carers in the UK will see their benefits capped.
This represents around 2 in every 100 carers on means-tested benefits, but these families would lose an average of £105 per a week which could push them into crisis.
Local councils and job centres have a responsibility to advise families what action they should take if they have their benefits capped, and there is some funding to give some families ‘discretionary hardship payments’ if they are struggling. However this is only designed to be temporary and most of the advice will centre on how to find work or finding a cheaper place to live, both of which are options unsuitable for most carers.
If your benefits have been capped and you are a carer – ask for a discretionary housing payment from your local council and they will also try and give advice on what options you have.
What is the ‘bedroom tax’? Will it affect carers?
The ‘bedroom tax’ is the name campaigners have given to changes the Government is making to the ‘size criteria’ in Housing Benefit – the rules on how much Housing Benefit you get according to the size of your home.
The size criteria rules have restricted Housing Benefit for people renting in the private sector for some years. From April 2013 these rules are being applied to people in the ‘social housing sector’ (eg. housing associations or local council tenancies).
The change will restrict Housing Benefit to allow for one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household, with the following exceptions:
- Children under 16 of the same gender are expected to share.
- Children under 10 are expected to share regardless of gender.
- A disabled tenant or partner who needs support overnight from a ‘non-resident’ will be allowed an extra room (this could be a carer or a care worker, but they must not live with them).
- Disabled children unable to share with siblings because they are severely disabled.
- Foster carers and families where someone is away serving in the armed forces are also entitled to some exemptions.
However if families do not fall into one of these groups and are seen to be ‘under-occupying’ their home because they are seen to have ‘spare’ bedrooms, their Housing Benefit will be reduced. The reduction in support will be 14% of the total eligible rent for under occupation by one bedroom, or 25% of the total eligible rent for under occupation by two bedrooms or more – this means tenants will have to make up this shortfall in rent themselves. These new rules will be similar when Universal Credit is introduced, and people who are considered to be ‘under-occupying’ their homes will have the support Universal Credit supplies for housing reduced.
Carers UK is concerned that there are groups of carers who do not fall into these exceptions who would be affected. For example, couples who use their ‘spare’ bedroom when recovering from an illness or operation, or who cannot sleep in the same room because of disturbed sleep; parents whose disabled children visit but are not part of the household.
People will be able to apply for ‘Discretionary Housing Payments’ from their councils but these are often only temporary to give people time to either increase their income from working or to find smaller accommodation. There is very limited funding from the Government to enable some families includnig a disabled person to stay in their own homes on an ongoing basis but councils have the final decision. For carers unable to work they will simply be unable to find the extra money and would be forced to consider down-sizing or moving to a cheaper area. If you are affected we have produced a new advice resource on what you can do - Housing Benefit: Size Criteria Factsheet.