More than 25,000 people applied for the ‘discretionary housing payment’ to help pay their rent this month, as the Bedroom Tax kicked in. This compares to just 5,700 applications in the same month last year. Notices of eviction are being issued up and down the country. Caught up in these figures were a blind widow, a disabled dad and a rape victim. It is time to put a human face on the statistical failure of the Bedroom Tax.
The Blind Widow
Helen Sockell, 56, (pictured above) has lived in her Kilmarnock home for 25 years. Her husband John died in 2005 and their son Andrew died, aged just 24 in the same year. She is blind and now lives alone, supported by a full time carer.
She has no way to find the additional £33 a fortnight that the Bedroom Tax has added to her costs and so has run up arrears of £117. She has now received letters from her council threatening court action and eviction. The letter also warns that Helen will face court costs of £350-£1500 on top of her debt.
Helen, speaking to The Mirror, said:
“I’ve been summoned for a meeting with the council but I don’t know what I can tell them…After having my housing benefit cut because of the bedroom tax, there’s no way I can afford to pay them what they want.”
The Mirror also spoke to Helen’s niece Claire Cunningham who stated:
“My aunt is blind and being evicted would be one of the most traumatic and distressing things that could happen to her…This situation is terrible – it’s beyond our worst nightmare…She’s settled in the house and although it’s not completely modified to her needs, she knows her way around it…If she’s evicted and put somewhere else, she’ll have to start that whole process all over again. Not only is that unsafe but it is unacceptable.”
Anyone with a sense of common decency would condemn any piece of legislation which led to a blind widow being threatened with eviction. Helen’s story is devastating, but sadly, not an isolated incident.
The Disabled Dad
Richard Rourke is a disabled widower from Whitwell, Derbyshire. He is a wheelchair user living in a three bed home. His daughter suffers a rare form of muscular dystrophy and needs a room when she returns home from University at weekends and holidays. The third room is a box room used to store essential equipment, including a hoist for lifting him, a power chair and shower seat.
The government classes Richard Rourke as having two spare rooms, and for this he has seen his housing benefit cut by 25%. He cannot afford to pay the additional £100 a month, is now building up rent arrears and faces the threat of eviction.
Richard is one of ten disabled people who have launched a legal challenge against Work and Pensions Minister Iain Duncan Smith’s Bedroom Tax on the grounds it is discriminatory. Of the 660,000 households hit by the new regulations, 420,000 contain a disabled person.
In a three-day hearing at the High Court, lawyers for the ten are asking the court to rule that the Bedroom Tax breaches Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects against discrimination.
They also argue that Iain Duncan Smith has failed to comply with his duty to public equality under the 2010 Equality Act.
As inspiring as it is that these disabled people are mounting a fight back, one can’t help but despair at the necessity for them to occupy their time and energy battling the very department that should be supporting them. The DWP now appears to exist to penalise the jobless, the old, the disabled and the poor, when its chief role is to support and enable them to live independent lives.
The Rape Victim
It is not only disabled people who are launching a legal challenge against the Bedroom Tax on grounds of discrimination; a victim of rape, assault, harassment and stalking is taking the government to court as well.
According to Inside Housing, the plaintiff instigated judicial review proceedings against Iain Duncan Smith and his Department of Work and Pensions in the High Court last Friday.
Known only as ‘A’ to protect her identity, she has a specially adapted home with a panic room. The police adapted her property because her life was at risk from an ex-partner with a history of serious violence. The home has a ‘panic space’ and a specialist ‘sanctuary system’, which includes reinforced doors, electric alarms and alarms linked to the police station. As their home is classed as a three bedroom property, the government deems them as having a ‘spare room’ and has cut 14% of their Housing Benefit.
Rebekah Carrier, a member of ‘A’s legal team says:
“Our client’s life is at risk and she is terrified. She lives in a property which has been specially adapted by the police, at great expense, to protect her and her child. It is ridiculous that she is now being told she must move to another property (where she will not have any of these protections) or else take in a lodger…She is a vulnerable single parent who has been a victim of rape and assault. The secretary of state cannot seriously suggest that it is appropriate for her to take a stranger into her home.”
The DWP response was this: ‘We are confident that these measures are lawful and they do not discriminate against any groups.’
The Bedroom Tax is Cruel and it won’t Work
The fallout from this horrendous assault on our most vulnerable people is only in its second month, and we are already reaping the whirlwind.
Applications for the Discretionary Housing Payment fund (rent payment assistance) have risen almost five fold in the last month:
- Nottingham City Council has dealt with 223 applications for financial help, a fourfold increase on April last year.
- Derby has seen applications from 420 households this month, that’s almost as many as the whole of last year.
- Leicester has seen applications from 327 households – six times as many as April 2012.
Given the complete lack of clarity about what constitutes a spare room, one must take the governments estimates with a pinch of salt.
Furthermore, it says nothing of where the available properties are, how suitable they are for the families involved. And finally, it says nothing of why we have the housing shortage – but simply leads people to the assumption that it is poor distribution, rather than supply.
It is decades of defunct housing policy that has left the UK with a housing shortage crisis. The UK is building 100,000 homes a year less than it needs to in order to meet requirements. The National Housing Federation issued a report last year which showed Housing Benefit has doubled in recent years as a direct result of an astronomical increase in housing costs. The report shows an 86% rise in housing benefit claims by working families, with 10,000 new claims coming in per month. House prices are now 300% higher (in real terms) than in 1959 – if the price of a dozen eggs had risen as quickly, they would now cost £19. Rents across the UK have risen by an average of 37% in the UK in just the last three years.
None of this is addressed by the Bedroom Tax. It simply penalises the victims. It is yet another cruel, failed policy from a cruel, failed government.
UPDATE: Helen Sockell has been told she will not be evicted, after head of local council visits her following the press campaign. It works! http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/council-chief-makes-personal-apology-1921104
Leeds Council has suggested residents tackle the Bedroom Tax by reclassifying their bedrooms as ‘non-specific rooms’
Join the 38 Degrees Campaign to Stop the Bedroom Tax