Government urged to exempt carers and their families from controversial charges for ‘spare rooms’
Carers UK, with six other national charities, is urging the Government to use the forthcoming Budget to ensure carers and disabled people in social housing do not face ‘bedroom tax’ payments.
In an open letter published today (Thursday) to Chancellor George Osborne and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith, the Chief Executives of Carers UK, MS Society, Mencap, Macmillan Cancer Support, Disability Rights UK, Carers Trust and Contact a Family, express deep concerns about the impact of the new policy on disabled people and families caring unpaid for ill, frail or disabled loved ones.
Carers UK is also encouraging carers to write to their own MPs asking them to recognise their contribution and the need to protect them from additional financial hardship by supporting the campaign for exemptions.
Changes to the size criteria in Housing Benefit, which will reduce support given to families in social housing considered to be ‘under-occupying’, form part of welfare changes being brought in from April.
Heléna Herklots, Chief Executive of Carers UK said: ‘These changes would hit families for whom an extra bedroom is essential. If you care full-time for a severely ill or disabled partner, their condition may mean a separate room for you to sleep is vital. Disabled children often cannot share with their brothers or sisters. Hitting carers and disabled people with extra costs for this essential accommodation, or forcing them to move is simply wrong. For families already struggling to make ends meet it could have devastating consequences.”
Government figures show that the ‘bedroom tax’ will affect 420,000 disabled people, their families and carers. Carers UK analysis shows that extra funding from Government to provide ‘discretionary payments’ to families hit by the policy would only protect 10% of the disabled people affected.
The charities highlight a number of situations where families need additional sleeping space. Disabled children may be unable to share with their brothers or sisters. Disabled people may be unable to share a room with their husband, wife or partner. Carers who care full-time or who juggle work and care may need to sleep in another room just to get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep which enables them to carry on caring or continue to work alongside looking after loved ones.
• Stephanie is 8 and her younger sister has learning and physical disabilities that mean she wakes up throughout the night, often talking or shouting.
• Tracey’s husband’s health problems mean he needs to sleep on a hospital bed surrounded by noisy medical equipment that fills the room
• Tony’s wife has cerebral palsy and spasms uncontrollably throughout the night.
In the letter to Government, the heads of the seven charities acknowledge an exemption for disabled people who needed a spare room for someone to stay overnight to look after them but note that this this does not apply to carers who live with the people they care for:
“People unable to share rooms because of illness or disability cannot be considered to be under-occupying and the Government has made it clear that it does not want to force families to stop caring and into work – which would be a terrible situation to put families in, but also one which would bring huge additional bills to local councils who would have to step in to provide care. Many of the carers and disabled people who have contacted us will simply be unable to cover the shortfall and may be forced to move or face falling into arrears, financial hardship and debt”
The charities argue that being forced to move would cause huge distress and disruption for families, causing care arrangements to fall apart and breaking up vital support networks with friends and family.
Families would also face the additional costs of moving and may have to move out of homes very often adapted for their needs – either incurring considerable further costs themselves or for local authorities. The knock on costs to social care services could also be extremely high, the charities warn.
Notes To Editors:
- The full text of the letter can be downloaded below
- Carers UK supports the millions of people who care for an elderly relative, a sick partner or a disabled family member, provides information and advice about caring and campaigns to make life better for carers.
- There are a total of over 6.4 million carers in the UK today. Every year over 2 million people become carers and by 2037 it is estimated there will be 9 million carers in the UK.
- Government figures show a total of 660,000 people will be affected by the change and that 420,000 will live in a household with a disabled person.
- Whilst protections exist for disabled people who need a room for a ‘non-resident overnight carer’ this does not protect carers who live with the person they care for and need an extra room to sleep in.