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Bedroom tax exemption consultation: Our response

18 October 2013

Response to the Social Security Advisory Committee on the Housing Benefit and Universal Credit (Size Criteria)(Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2013  

Disability Rights UK

Disability Rights UK was formed through a merger of Disability Alliance, Radar and the National Centre for Independent Living on 1 January 2012. We aim to be the largest national pan-disability organisation led by disabled people. Our vision is of a society where everyone with lived experience of disability or health conditions can participate equally as full citizens.

Disability Rights UK’s objectives are:

  • To mobilise disabled people’s leadership and control;
  • To achieve independent living in practice;
  • To break the link between disability and poverty; and
  • To put disability equality and human rights into practice across society.

Introduction

We are writing this response to clarify and expand upon the points made at the meeting called by the SSAC on the 10 October 2013.

As stated at the meeting, we believe that the sub-paragraphs in the draft regulations that define a 'child who requires their own bedroom' are unnecessarily restrictive, and will lead to disabled children who require their own bedroom being forced to share a bedroom or have their parents face a size criteria benefit penalty.

Our proposal

We consider that the benefit gateway defined in sub-paragraph (a):

… who is entitled to the care component of disability living allowance at the higher or middle rate prescribed in accordance with section 72(3) of the Act;

is unnecessary. This is because the following sub-paragraph (b):

… who the relevant authority is satisfied is unable, by virtue of his or her disability, to share a room with another child;

is restrictive enough. If the authority is not satisfied that the child is unable to share a room with another child due to their disability, they will not have to allow the family another bedroom in the size criteria calculation.

However, if a definition of disability is to be retained within the regulations, it needs to be broader to keep within the spirit of the Burnip judgement.

Redefining the gateway

According to the Burnip judgment two things are needed - a finding of disability and an inability to share a bedroom due to that disability. If it is accepted that the receipt of DLA is indeed too restrictive a definition of disability, what would be a reasonable alternative?

One possibility would be to use the Children and Young People's Register. The Children Act 1989 requires all local authorities to create a register of disabled children and young people in their area who have a physical or mental condition which has a 'substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities'. Registration is voluntary but would involve no cost to the family.

As the draft regulations stand, a disabled child may be on the local authorities' own register, be able to demonstrate they cannot share a bedroom but not be eligible for a separate bedroom under the draft regulations if they do not meet the criteria for DLA.

Retaining the benefit gateway

If a decision is made, however, to retain the benefit gateway, we would advise that it is broadened out and simplified to:

(a) who is entitled to disability living allowance;

In this way, children who require an extra bedroom and are entitled to disability living allowance, but who do not receive the middle or higher rates of the care component, could be covered (see below for the numbers involved).

Examples

Paula Thomas, the Eye Clinic Liaison Officer at Great Ormond Street Hospital London, provides the following examples of where a child with a visual impairment would need their own bedroom. In such cases the child would often only be getting the low rate of the care component (plus either rate of the mobility component):

(1) Organising space and navigating

A child with a sight problem (even if comparatively slight) needs their own space in order that they can place things and keep things where they can find them, so they can organise toys, clothes, shoes etc. This helps with choice and independence for a child growing up.

Also, for navigational purposes, it is important that they know that they can safely get from their bed to the bedroom door without there being things left on the floor by another sibling.

Stephen

Stephen is 5 years old and is partially sighted. He does not receive DLA, but is on the Kent County Council Children's Disability Register. He has a 7 year old sister Susan. His vision is particularly poor in low light conditions. Susan tends to leave her toys on the floor of her room, which Stephen has often tripped over or trodden on; on occasion hurting himself. Consequently he has been given his own room.

(2) Lighting

It is often necessary to be able to control lighting levels. Some children with visual impairments will prefer very bright, daylight type lighting whilst others will prefer low-level, less bright lighting. This is hard to enforce with another child sharing the space. This also may include having black-out curtains, blinds or foils at windows; either letting no light in or defusing light from the outside.

Also some children will need high contrast surroundings; wall coverings, paint work, bedding and furniture may need to be chosen specifically to offer high contrast. Though not impossible to do with children sharing, it does still need to be taken into consideration.

(3) Sleep problems

Children with a visual impairment are known to have problems sleeping, especially those with a severe visual impairment. They are then likely after falling asleep to wake more regularly. This is partly due to not knowing if it is still night or morning.

For these children, parents have to use methods to encourage regular sleep patterns. This could be by using a certain piece of music, a story, and soothing a child back to sleep. Though this is likely to disturb another child sharing the room, the frequency of the interventions may not be enough to warrant the care component (for night needs).

If it is an older child, they may use a talking clock so they can tell if it is the right time to be getting up; again this would be disturbing for another child.

(4) Equipment

Especially for an older child, the equipment they have to aid independence will take up a lot of room and, depending on the level of visual impairment, could be speech-based. This may include speech software on a computer, talking watches, clocks and phones, colour detectors, talking books (just to name a few).

Mandy

Mandy is 12 years old and is blind. She receives the higher rate of the mobility component and the low rate of the care component. She has a 14-year old sister Natalie. They have separate bedrooms as Mandy uses audio equipment and speech software (in this case JAWS) in the bedroom. Sharing a bedroom with her sister would not be suitable due to distraction caused by noise and disturbance in concentration due to the presence of Natalie.

(Thanks to Sarah Casares from RNIB for this example)

If they are Braille users, then books take up a huge amount of space and will need extra shelving. If they are Braille users, they will be likely to use a Perkins Brailler; this is noisy and bulky. If they are large print users they will need a large work space to lay out their homework.

All of this will need organising so that the child can find things easily (see (1) above).

The numbers involved

Using the DWP tabulation tool*, in February 2013, a total of 5,090 children were in receipt of the DLA mobility component but not the care component (1,200 were aged from 5 to under 11; 3,840 from 11 to under 16). In the same month, 19,590 children were in receipt of the care component at the lower rate (2,280 were under 5; 7,550 were aged from 5 to under 11; 9,760 from 11 to under 16).

Combining these figures, in February 2013, the total number of children under the age of 16 who were in receipt of DLA that did not include the care component at the middle or higher rate was 24,680. This represents 6.97% of the total number of DLA awards for children at that time (354,300).

Further study would be required to ascertain how many of these children were included in housing benefit awards and how many of these would be affected by the size criteria rules.

*http://tabulation-tool.dwp.gov.uk/100pc/dla/tabtool_dla.html

Contact/further information

If you have any questions about this response or Disability Rights UK please do not hesitate to contact: Ian Greaves: ian.greaves@disabilityrightsuk.org. You can find out more about the consultation at http://disabilityrightsuk.org/news/2013/october/consultation-bedroom-tax-exemption-children

18 October 2013