Hannah Fearn Blog:
A reliance on temporary discretionary housing payments to protect residents from the bedroom tax will not go far enough.
The high court judgment that disabled families are not unfairly discriminated against by the detail of welfare reform is a bitter blow to bedroom tax campaigners. On Tuesday, two judges ruled that it is not the business of the courts to “micro manage” government policy decisions, and that the pot of money allocated for discretionary housing payments (DHP) should provide local authorities with enough flexibility to deal with anomalies thrown up by the tax.
In support of the court’s decision – and in a quiet admission that the “spare room subsidy” could have devastating unintended consequences for the families of disabled people – the government found an extra £35m to allocate to the fund. (Where was this £35m when the policy was first designed to save taxpayers’ money?) The onus is now on councils to demonstrate that they are protecting vulnerable local people from the impact of the bedroom tax by allocating their payments carefully.
The coalition government is never happier than when it finds a policy or practice designed by Labour to be “not fit for purpose”, and perhaps this is how it considers the DHP funding stream. For this is a zero sum game. It perverts and undermines what it was originally designed to do.
Discretionary housing payments are allocated to councils to achieve two things: prevent homelessness in their area and stop local households slipping into extreme poverty and debt due to circumstances beyond their control. A grant allocation from the DHP pot is made if a household either cannot afford to make payment towards their housing costs or has slipped into rent arrears because their finances are so tight they cannot absorb the shock of change. For example, somebody moving off benefits into paid work may find that they are not paid for the first five or six weeks of their new job and slip into rent arrears. A grant or loan from the DHP scheme (depending on their circumstances) can help manage the transition.
Similarly, if a tenant needs to move house in the private sector to secure work or to support a family, they may find they are expected to pay many weeks’ rent in advance and do not have the capital to cover the cost. DHP can help here too, just as it can support those leaving the care system or rejoining the community after a spell in prison by putting down a deposit for a new tenant.
2nd August 2013