Real people suffer behind the bedroom tax headlines


By Sandra Webster

SINCE its introduction in April, the Bedroom Tax has never been out of the headlines. Behind these headlines which quickly become yesterday’s news, are the real stories of the lives that are affected. Although the coalition promised to protect the most vulnerable, it becomes clearer each day that these are among the greatest affected. As we prepare to march on the Lib Dem UK conference, it is good to be reminded of why we are taking action.

Two years ago, the ‘Smith’ family moved into a housing association property. They care for their 18-year-old daughter who lives with cerebral palsy. Her condition means she needs care around the clock. They were so relieved to be able to move into a home which had been especially adapted for her needs. They also had a spare room to store all her medical equipment and a room each for the other children.

In April though they received notice that they would have to pay £16 a week for their “spare” room. The situation was exacerbated by one of the children moving out due to the stresses of living with a disabled sibling. With rent arrears of only £120, they felt pressurised to look for another property. They have now moved to a ground floor flat with a lack of storage space. The irony is that their previous home still remains empty after two months, meaning the housing association has lost more revenue than the rent arrears

‘James’ and ‘Sara’ are divorced but share care for their sons who are both on the autistic spectrum. This means both boys needs are well met.  The boys’ sleeping patterns can be erratic with them both being awake at night. Due to this, both parents have a three bedroom house so each of the boys can have their own room. This was assessed as a medical need by an occupational therapist employed by the local authority.

With the introduction of the Bedroom Tax, siblings under the age of eight of the same sex are now automatically expected to share a room, even with a medical condition. As the main carer, ‘Sara’ has been successful in applying for a discretionary housing payment but ‘James’ is expected to pay the extra cost of having two “spare” rooms. He is contesting this at the moment but his arrears keep increasing.

These are just two of the stories that have been shared with SSP members manning stalls on the Bedroom Tax. What they do highlight is that, although people with disabilities are among the priority groups for Bedroom Tax discretionary housing payments, the funds are sometimes not reaching those who need them most. It is evident that many vulnerable people are being put under more stress as the Bedroom Tax legislation impacts on their lives.

We have heard stories of parents whose children have been taken into care, immediately having to pay. Some people have still not heard of discretionary housing payments, despite the advertisement campaign. Others are not aware of the right to appeal. Part of our role is not just to campaign to bring an end to this odious attack but also support those affected.

There are good news stories. ‘Jean’, a woman with severe epilepsy, attended one of our public meetings last month. She had been told by her housing officer that due to her receiving disability living allowance she would not be entitled to any help with paying the Bedroom Tax. She has cut off her phone and broadband, leaving her more isolated to ensure she could pay. Local members supported her in making another claim and she told us this week she had got a letter saying she will not have to make any further payments.

This small victory reminds us that the Bedroom Tax campaign can be won in many ways, and is only one example of the many people we are supporting. A person free from the worry of eviction or increasing rent arrears has more energy for further campaigning, and will spread the message to the communities they live in. That’s why the battle of the Bedroom Tax will be won on the micro and macro levels.

This article appears courtesy of The Scottish Socialist Voice