By Vivienne Russell | 12 March 2013
The government has agreed to exempt more groups from its controversial ‘bedroom tax’ following sustained pressure from MPs and campaigners.
In a written ministerial statement, laid before Parliament today, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said neither foster carers nor families of armed forces personnel would have their Housing Benefit docked when the change takes effect next month.
Under the proposal, Housing Benefit claimants with one spare bedroom will lose 14% of their benefit. Those with two spare bedrooms will have it cut by 25%. Pensioners are exempt from the policy and there has been pressure to apply the exemption to other groups, such as people with disabilities who need a spare room to house specialist equipment and aids, and foster carers who need spare capacity to accommodate children in their care.
Duncan Smith confirmed that foster carers will be allowed an additional room, whether or not a child has been placed with them, so long as they have fostered a child or become an approved foster carer in the past 12 months.
Also, adult children in the armed forces but who continue to live in the parental home will be regarded as living at home, even when deployed on operations.
‘The intent of the policy was that by using Discretionary Housing Payments, the estimated 5,000 foster carers and rather fewer armed forces personnel groups would be protected,’ Duncan Smith said.
‘We have agreed with local authority organisations improved arrangements through these regulations that puts these protections beyond doubt.’
The changes will apply to tenants in both social housing and private rented accommodation.
The secretary of state added that he had issued guidance to local authorities on Discretionary Housing Payments, which are intended to top up the benefit of people deemed to be in special circumstances. People with disabilities or long-term medical conditions were a ‘priority group’ for discretionary payments, he said.
Implementation of the policy would also be monitored and evaluated by external bodies, including the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research, and adjusted if necessary, Duncan Smith stated.
Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network, said: ‘This is fantastic news. This change of policy means that foster carers can sleep easy knowing that they will not be punished for providing homes for some of the UK’s most vulnerable children.
‘We are particularly pleased that it will also impact on those in privately rented accommodation as they have already been hit with penalties for ‘under occupancy’ for 18 months.’
But shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne said the policy had now descended into ‘total chaos’.
He said: ‘Today’s announcement doesn’t bring forward one extra penny for victims of this wretched tax.
‘They have said nothing to almost half a million households that are home to a disabled person who are set to lose over £700 at exactly the same time as millionaires receive a massive tax cut.’
The government has also confirmed that families with disabled children who need their own room would be exempt from the tax, subject to a local authority assessment. This cost would be met from the main Housing Benefit budget, not from the discretionary fund.