Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Please help encourage Scottish Borders Council to do the right thing for a 6 year old?

Of all the damaging things the last Labour Government did, bringing in the Local Housing Allowance was one of the worst. This means that Housing Benefit claimants are entitled only to benefit based on the local market rent for the size of house they are deemed to need. It's the latter part that causes the damage.

Just imagine, you, your partner and your child rent a 3 bedroomed flat to give yourselves extra space. You lose your job. You have to claim benefits. You will only get Housing Benefit for a 2 bedroomed flat. What are you supposed to do? Move? How expensive is that? Especially if there's a problem and your landlord withholds your deposit for some spurious reason.

But that's not the worst of it.

Let me tell you the story of someone I know through her tireless voluntary work. She used to be a teacher, but had to give up her job to care for her severely disabled husband. The couple have a 6 year old son, Hugh.

After a 3 year struggle to move from their totally unsuitable accommodation down south, the family were delighted to be offered a 3 bedroomed flat in the Scottish Borders by a disability charity. It seemed the perfect answer for all their needs. However, Scottish Borders Council are refusing to give them funding for the third bedroom, which is essential. Hugh needs a room of his own, and, for medical reasons, so does his Dad.  The two bedroomed flat they are supposedly entitled to under the LHA regulations clearly isn't sufficient.

Now, Scottish Borders Council could, if they chose, follow the guidelines set out by the Department of Work and Pensions on discretionary housing payments . which would enable them to fund the extra bedroom this family so clearly needs.  The Social Policy Unit states that:

The Department has stated that it expects the additional needs of disabled people to be paid for by local authorities from Discretionary Housing Payments.
Unfortunately, Scottish Borders Council is digging its heels in and refusing to act in accordance with these guidelines.

If they do not agree to do so, then this family faces eviction and homelessness as they live on Income Support and Disability Living Allowance and simply can't afford to pay the extra £20 a week rent. In that instance, the Scottish Borders Council would have to rehouse them  - but they could be moved anywhere across this vast Council, probably more than once. Can you imagine how stressful that would be for a severely disabled man and a 6 year old? The disruption to Hugh's schooling for a start would be horrendous. And that's before we even get to the effect this would have on the mum, who would have to care for both husband and son in these uncertain circumstances. And, to be blunt and look at it callously,  the cost to the taxpayers in the Scottish Borders would be significantly more than the £20 per week currently being sought.

But this isn't about relative cost - it's about what's right for this family. Scottish Borders Council would not want to be the sort of organisation that treated a vulnerable family in such a cruel way, surely? Why should they be forced out of a flat which is adapted for them which suits their needs exactly? It's clear that the DWP guidance suggests that the  Council could and should pay the extra rent. The letter of the relevant bit of legislation gives them the right not to.

If you agree that the Council is being unjust, please could you write a letter in support of this family to its Chief Executive, David Hume, at Council Headquarters, Newtown St Boswells, Melrose, TD6 0SA. You could copy your letter to Council leader David Parker at the same address. You don't need to know the personal details of this family - the first name of their son should suffice. Ask them to pay the extra £20 per week in accordance with DWP guidance on Discretionary Housing Payments.

I think this is one occasion when actually taking the time to print out a letter and post it off would help to show that the Council's reputation is being damaged by its intransigence.

There may be some contradiction between guidance and law, and it looks like the Council are doing what it thinks will be the cheapest thing for them, rather than the right thing for a family who have been caught out by this lack of clarity.  None of this is Hugh's or his Mum and Dad's  fault, but they are being asked to pay a heavy price. I feel so angry and frustrated that we treat people like this. This family have been fighting over housing one way or another for the better part of 6 years. Please help bring their ordeal to an end so they can just live their  lives in peace.

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