The bedroom tax affects low-income families – whether in work or not – in Council or Housing Association properties. It reduces housing benefit awards for tenants who are deemed to have one or more “spare” bedrooms in their homes.
For example, a couple with two teenage daughters aged 13 and 15 living in a 3-bedrom house will have their housing benefit reduced by 14% because the girls are expected to share a bedroom. For a family deemed to under-occupy by two or more bedrooms, the cut would be 25%.
In Sheffield, about 7,000 households are affected. The policy discriminates against disabled people, who may need extra space because of adapted accommodation, storage for medical or disability equipment or because disabled children may need separate bedrooms.
A policy that discriminates against disabled people may well be unlawful. Previous court cases found that equivalent regulations did discriminate against disabled people. In the Gorry case, the Court of Appeal judged that some children with severe disabilities – in this case a child with spina bifida and another with Down’s Syndrome – could not be expected to share a bedroom.
More recently, though, a court ruled that the new rules did not discriminate against disabled people. The case is now likely to go to the Court of Appeal so the law is still not clear.
If your disabled child needs to have their own bedroom because their severe disability means they cannot share with a sibling, make sure you tell the housing benefit office. New government guidance says that local councils must allow an extra bedroom in such a case. Letters or reports from doctors, consultants or therapists will help to back this up. If the council refuses, there is a right to appeal to an independent tribunal.
In addition, families with a disabled child could apply to the council for a discretionary housing payment (DHP). As its name suggests, this is paid at the discretion of the council but can help to top up housing benefit.
Written by Douglas Johnson, Equality Rights Worker at Sheffield Law Centre (call 0114 273 1501)
Sheffield City Council website, or call 0114 273 6777
Disability Rights UK bedroom tax factsheet
Contact a Family has template letters for challenging bedroom tax decisions, or call 0808 808 3555
Sheffield Green Party bedroom tax factsheet