The Government has said that disabled children should be exempt from controversial new housing benefit size criteria rules – the “bedroom tax” – but learning disability charity Mencap has called for this to be extended to adults as well.
The exemption was announced last week by the Government following their decision not to appeal in the Supreme Court a decision from May 2012 that said that the size criteria rules discriminated, on the grounds of disability, against a family who had one child with spina bifida and another with Down’s syndrome.
In April, new housing benefit rules come in that affect families living in social housing and will mean that children under the age of 10, regardless of gender and those of the same sex under 16 must share a room. Otherwise families living in social housing will lose some of their housing benefit. This applied even when one or more child had a disability.
In response to its decision to drop the appeal to the Supreme Court, the Department for Work and Pensions announced: “The secretary of state has… clarified the position regarding disabled children and has decided not to pursue the appeal further.
“This means that… local authorities should allow an extra bedroom for children who are unable to share because of their severe disabilities.”
In a written statement to the House of Commons, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: “I am also issuing guidance to local authorities emphasising that discretionary housing payments remain available for other priority groups including the needs of people whose homes have had significant disability adaptations and those with long-term medical conditions that create difficulties in sharing a bedroom.”
While Mencap welcomed this news, they point out that the Government has still made it clear in the size criteria guidance that there will be no exemption from the rules for adults with disabilities.
This means, for example, that any couple that includes one or more disabled people will lose housing benefit if they have an additional room, even if they have been identified as needing the room because of their disability.
Mencap’s senior campaigns and policy officer, Beatrice Barleon, said: “This means that the 420,000 disabled people that the Government identified as being affected by the new under-occupancy rules, will still be affected.
“Mencap is therefore still calling on the Government to accept that the rules are also discriminatory towards disabled adults, particularly where they have been identified as needing a separate bedroom.
“We believe all disabled people should be protected from the bedroom tax where they have a genuine need for an additional bedroom.
“We also want disabled people with adapted properties and those who are considered to have a spare bedroom but for whom no property locally can be found, and they would therefore be at risk of losing their support network, to be exempt.”