The government plans to restrict entitlement to claimants if they are deemed to live in accommodation that is larger than their family size warrants. In social rented properties, eligible rent for housing benefit purposes will be reduced by a percentage, while under-occupying claimants in the private rented sector will have their entitlement reduced to a fixed rate. The government’s own impact assessment advises that, at the proposed time of introduction in 2013/14, the application of size criteria to the social rented sector will affect 670,000 tenants in receipt of housing benefit – about 32% of all working-age housing benefit claimants in the sector.
But people with a learning disability will be the worst hit by these proposed changes, according to Mencap’s senior campaigns and policy officer, Beatrice Barleon. “The new powers that the Welfare Reform Bill would give the Secretary of State to introduce new size criteria for housing benefit in social housing sector are worrying as the changes are most likely to affect people with a disability. The government’s own equality impact assessment shows that about two-thirds of the people who will be affected by the reforms have a disability. “The changes mean that either people must move or have their benefits reduced if they are assessed as living in a home too big for their needs. We fear that this will lead to many disabled people who are unable to find smaller suitable housing having on average £13 per week deducted from their benefits. This will have a huge impact on people with a limited income. “While some people with a disability will be found to have a need for an additional room for a carer, and may as a result be unaffected by the changes, it is unclear how many will fall in this category. “We are concerned about the potential disruption to individuals who may have to move away from family and support networks as a result of the changes. We also query whether enough thought has been given to the human and economic costs of moving a disabled person out of a home already adapted to their needs into a new home which may not be.”