The impact of the Bedroom Tax & other changes to housing benefit in Scotland

Written evidence submitted by Capability Scotland

Capability Scotland campaigns with, and provides education, employment and care services, for disabled people across Scotland.

Summary

· Capability Scotland is concerned about the devastating impact the bedroom tax will have on disabled people and their families in Scotland. Our own independently commissioned research has shown that 24% of disabled people in Scotland will see their Housing Benefit cut as a result of the policy despite their ‘extra’ room being essential for a purpose related to their disability.

· Our research also shows that, due to a lack of supply of accessible and suitable housing, the majority of disabled people affected will be unable to move to a smaller property. Given that there is a shortfall of 17,042 wheelchair accessible housing in Scotland, and that none of Scotland’s local authorities have an adequate supply of one bedroom homes to meet demand, disabled people are being put in an impossible – and highly stressful - situation.

· As a provider of specialist housing and support for disabled people Capability Scotland also has serious concerns about the narrow scope of exemptions for those in supported accommodation. We believe the current provisions will discriminate against those disabled people who choose to receive their housing and support from separate suppliers. This is contrary to the UK Government’s apparent commitment to independent living and personalisation.

· Capability Scotland is also extremely disappointed that the UK Government has failed to amend regulations to reflect the Court of Appeal’s findings that severely disabled children should not be forced to share a bedroom with their siblings. This has resulted in an unacceptable lack of clarity for both local authorities and disabled households.

Our Response

1.The Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland’s figures show that disabled people will be worst affected by the bedroom tax. Of around 95,000 households in Scotland deemed to be under-occupying social rented housing [1] , approximately two thirds contain a disabled person. Given the lack of small, accessible homes in Scotland disabled people are being put in an impossible situation, presented with a choice between poverty and unsuitable housing.

2. Freedom of Information research has found that none of Scotland’s 32 local authorities can guarantee they have enough one bedroom properties available to meet the demand which being created by the bedroom tax. In Aberdeenshire, for instance, 703 tenants are considered to have one extra bedroom but there were only 86 single-bedroom properties available for rent in the social rented sector. [2] This lack of supply is compounded for disabled people given that one in five disabled people already live in a house that is ‘not at all’ or ‘not very suitable’ to their needs. [3] T he estimate of the number of wheelchair user households in Scotland with unmet housing needs is 17,042 [4] . Many disabled people literally have nowhere to go to avoid the bedroom tax.

3. Furthermore, many disabled people would be unable to live in a home with fewer bedrooms, despite being told their homes are too big for them. 23% of the 88 disabled people we surveyed believe their ‘extra’ room is essential for a purpose related to their disability [5] . The households most likely to be in this situation are couples who need to sleep in separate rooms as a result of the symptoms of a disability. Examples given included people who needed to sleep alone because of constant spasms, incontinence and extreme restlessness. We would urge the Government to review this policy, particularly given the Court of Appeal’s findings in the Gorry case [6] . In that case the Court held that that forcing disabled children to share a room with a sibling despite the resulting disruption to sleep constituted disability discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. We believe this creates powerful precedent for a similar situation involving an adult couple.

4. Other households who stated the need for an extra room in our research included those who require extra space to store bulky disability related equipment (26%). Examples given by respondents included needing extra room for a powered wheelchair, hoist, walker and/or frame.

5. Our survey findings also highlighted that money spent on existing aids and adaptations could go to waste as a result of the scheme. 84% of respondents said their current home had been specially adapted to meet their needs. Adaptations included a wet floor shower room, a track and hoist system and an automated toilet. While some of these households might receive Discretionary Housing Payments because their home has is classed as having ‘significant adaptations’, many using more minor aids and adaptations will not fall into this category. This means disabled individuals, Registered Social Landlords and local authorities will have fund for new rails, ramps, adapted doors and toilet appliances when claimants are forced to move to smaller homes.

6. The impact on those unable or unwilling to find appropriate, smaller accommodation is even more worrying. Of the 88 disabled people we questioned, only 87% thought it was realistic for them to move to a smaller home. Reasons for this included the shortage of adapted homes (66%), the shortage of smaller homes (31%) and the fact that people had had difficulty finding suitable accommodation in the past (27%).

7. Many respondents (46%) said they would be likely to remain in their current home despite a decrease in their income as a result of the bedroom tax. When asked about the impact such a decrease in income would have on their lives, 76% respondents told us they would be forced to cut down on basic household costs. Of this group, most would have to make cuts to heating (80%), food (60%) and clothing bills (51%). Comments included the following:

"These changes may affect my health and I do not want to go into hospital. I rely totally on my family and they may have to leave me or the area if further income for the house is required. "

"I’m worried because at the moment it’s a question of eat or heat. Heating for our house takes up a large portion of our benefits and then there are all the other bills to pay."

"It is a matter of paying your bills, keeping a roof over your head and just living. We already do very little other than breathe, eat and survive"

Supported Exempt Accommodation

8. Capability Scotland provides a range of services for disabled people across Scotland including supported housing an d community living services. We are concerned that the current, narrow definition of supported exempt accommodation used to exclude certain households from the bedroom tax will have a seriously detrimental effect on disabled people across Scotland.

9. Currently, supported accommodation is only exempt from the bedroom tax where the provider of the accommodation (or their agent) also provides the individual’s care, support or supervision. There is an urgent need to consider the position of those people who receive care, support or supervision in their home from an organisation other than their landlord or its managing agent. This includes many disabled individuals who receive support from their local authority, a voluntary sector organisation or a private company.

10. The UK Government’s own research [7] suggests that there has been an increased tendency to separate out the contracting of housing on one hand and care on the other. Indeed, it is increasingly the case that while a landlord might provide housing management, the local authority (or the supported individual themselves) will contract with a different organisation to provide the care, support or supervision. This trend is likely to continue at pace in Scotland given the recent passage of the Social Work (Self Directed Support) (Scotland) Act 2013, which will give disabled individuals increased choice and control over the way in which services are delivered and by whom.

11. In many cases, disabled tenants in this category will face a reduction in their Housing Benefit as a result of the size criteria and will be forced to find a new home, as well as new support providers. This would be an extremely difficult process for any disabled person, but particularly for those with learning disabilities and/or mental health problems . This group are likely to find such upheaval traumatic and may rely on support networks in their current area. Many of those who are dependent on the proximity of family and friends in order to live independently may reach crisis point and be forced to rely local authority and NHS services.

Severely Disabled Children

12. Capability Scotland is also extremely disappointed that the UK Government has failed to amend regulations to reflect the Court of Appeal’s findings in the Gorry case. In this case it was held that disabled children should not have to share a bedroom with their siblings if the local authority classes them as severely disabled. Despite the Court’s findings (and the UK Government’s decision not to challenge them), the relevant regulations have not been amended to reflect this legal change. This has resulted in an unacceptable lack of clarity for both local authorities and disabled households.

About Us

Capability Scotland campaigns with, and provides education, employment and care services for disabled people across Scotland. The organisation aims to be a major ally in supporting disabled people to achieve full equality and to have choice and control of their lives by 2020. More information about Capability Scotland can be found at www.capability-scotland.org.uk.

May 2013


[1] Preparing for the Bedroom Tax and Beyond , CIH, October 2012 http://www.cih.org

[2] Scottish Television Freedom of Information Research; “Thousands in Scotland have no hope of avoiding the Bedroom Tax”, 11 April 2013 http://local.stv.tv/edin b urgh/magazine/221071-bedroom-tax-numbers-show-lack-of-one-bed-council-houses-in-scotland/

[3] C ombined data from the 2005/06, 2007 and 2008 Scottish House Condition Surveys (SCHS)

[4] Mind the Step : An estimation of Housing Demand Amongst Wheelchair Users in Scotland, Horizon Housing, January 2013 http://www.horizonhousing.org/documents/website/pdfs/J13778%20Mind%20the%20Step.pdf

[5] Capability Scotland Survey into Housing Benefit, May 2013,Conducted by Scotinform.

[6] Gorry v SSWP [2012] EWCA Civ 629

[7] Exempt and Supported Accommodation, DWP Research Paper, 2010,

[7] by Michelle Boath, Eleanor Baker and Helen Wilkinson http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd5/rports2009-2010/rrep714.pdf

Prepared 17th June 2013