The hateful Bedroom Tax, which is forcing many disabled people who rent their homes from local authorities to pay more rent because they need extra space due to their disability, has been in the news a lot over the last few months. It’s clearly a very unfair tax levied on people with the lowest incomes, and housing and disability organisations are predicting that many disabled people and their families are at ‘real risk of homelessness’ because of it.
The High Court recently failed to agree that the Bedroom Tax discriminated against disabled people and dismissed a challenge to its legality. It’s very difficult to see how a policy that’s so clearly discriminatory can ever be justified, and their ruling has been widely condemned.
I’ve recently come across some other legislation, this time affecting Council Tax, which seems to be far less well known. I want to share my experience of this scheme in the hope that other eligible people will be able to benefit from it.
Until February this year I shared the castle with Poppy and we had a bedroom each ¬– with my overnight support worker sleeping on a z-bed in the living room. But this put pressure on the space and meant we couldn’t use the living room properly. In the end it seemed more sensible for Poppy to move out and for her room to be just for my support worker.
Around the time Poppy moved out I heard about the Disabled Band Reduction Scheme. This is a nationwide scheme that makes sure disabled people get a reduced level of Council Tax if they need either a bigger property or have to adapt their home because of their disability.
The eligibility criteria as laid out on the Government’s website says:
‘The property must have 1 or more of:
• An extra bathroom, kitchen or other room for the disabled person
• Extra space inside the property for using a wheelchair’
I felt I’d qualify because my second bedroom’s only used by the person providing my overnight care. The use of this room relates entirely to my disability and I can’t use it in any other way. My local Council funds the overnight support worker and one of the conditions is that I provide them with a private space and proper bed. Essentially every night I use both rooms – one for me to sleep in and the other to ensure that I’m safe through the night. I do also use my wheelchair inside the castle, but this seemed like a secondary issue.
I contacted my local Council in February 2013 and they sent an inspector to do an assessment. I wasn’t happy with how this was conducted – it was very brief, and I felt very rushed, and he didn’t look around the castle at all. I wasn’t surprised when the report, full of errors, came back saying I was ineligible. One of the things that hadn’t been mentioned in the report was that I use my wheelchair indoors.
I appealed this decision, correcting the errors and supporting my claim with some case law I’d read on the Disability Rights website. The case I referred to related to a situation where a living room was being used as a bedroom because of the person’s disability, and therefore it couldn’t be used for any other purpose by the rest of the household. While this wasn’t identical to my situation I felt that the precedent the case set was applicable to me.
My Council sent a second inspector to reassess my claim. This time the outcome was that I was eligible, but on the grounds that the castle has extra space to allow me to use my wheelchair indoors, not on the use of the second bedroom. The letter confirming this arrived today, and the discount has been backdated. This reduction in Council Tax will help me meet other additional expenses associated with my disability.
While I’m very pleased with this outcome, it’s meant the Council avoided making a judgement on whether the use of my second bedroom to meet my overnight care needs qualifies me for the discount. Had they acknowledged this, it would have set a valuable precedent for others in a similar situation.
I hope that in the future Councils will be challenged on this issue of additional bedrooms, although I suspect this is less likely to happen now due to cuts to legal aid.
This scheme doesn’t seem to be widely known. I’d have been eligible from the time I moved into the castle in November 2011 if I’d been aware of it. Please do contact your local authority if you feel you may be eligible.