Lord Freud (Minister for welfare reform) and Edward Timpson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Children and Families) have written to local authorities about the under-occupancy rules and the impact on foster carers, encouraging them to treat foster carers who foster more than one child, prospective adopters and prospective special guardians as a priority group when considering claims to the Discretionary Housing Payment fund. The Minister has also stated that the impact of these benefit changes on foster carers will be monitored over the next 2 years.
The treatment of foster carers in the benefit system is complex. The Department of Work and Pensions also published a briefing note for foster carers on Universal Credit which can be downloaded from the same web page.
Last week, we posted an update about the U-turn on bedroom tax for foster carers.
However, the government have since announced that the exemption will only apply to a foster carer’s first “spare” bedroom, meaning that those who have two or more bedrooms for fostering will still be affected.
This could deter foster carers from offering homes to sibling groups, leading to brothers and sisters being split up between different foster families.
A £5m discretionary housing fund has been allocated to help remedy the problem but some foster carers are already reporting problems accessing this support.
The effect of the bedroom tax on the stability of sibling placements could be devastating. That’s why we’ll continue to campaign for all foster carers to be exempt from these unfair housing benefit cuts.
Please join our campaign by sharing your views with us, and we will share them with the Minister.
It has been announced that foster carers are to be exempted from the proposed housing benefit cuts due to commence in April. They will now be allowed an additional room as long as they have fostered a child or become a registered foster carer in the past 12 months.
FosterTalk is seeking further clarification on this from the Department for Work and Pensions and will provide further information as it becomes available.
Forthcoming Changes in Housing Benefit rules may affect foster carers – update Feb 13
At the beginning of April 2013, new rules will affect the calculation of Housing Benefit for social housing tenants in England, Wales and Scotland (similar rules in Northern Ireland depend on legislation currently under consideration).
Payments will be reduced by 14 per cent where a house is deemed to be “under-occupied” by one room and 24 per cent if under-occupied by two or more rooms. This may affect foster carers particularly, as fostered children are not counted when considering whether a home is fully occupied or not.
Example: A foster carer living in a three-bedroomed house, with no birth children living at home, will see their Housing Benefit cut by 25 per cent, regardless of how many foster children they have.
Local authorities are allocated a budget for Discretionary Housing Payments which they can use to support households which are in difficulties in meeting their rent, but although these budgets have been significantly increased, demand is expected to be extremely high so foster carers need to apply for DHP as soon as their housing benefit is affected.
Pensioners housing benefit claims will not be affected by the new rules.
Children’s Minister Edward Timpson stated in a Parliamentary answer that: “The discretionary housing payment (DHP) fund, administered by local authorities, will be increased by £5 million a year from April 2013. This will enable authorities to compensate foster carers whose housing benefit is subject to a restriction as a result of the size criteria measure being introduced for working age claimants living in the social rented sector.
The Department for Work and Pension's DHP guidance manual for local authorities is being revised. It will make clear the expectation that this additional funding will be prioritised for foster carers whose housing benefit is reduced as a result of this change because of a bedroom being used by, or kept free for, foster children.
I am meeting the Minister for Welfare Reform early in the new year to discuss what more needs to be done to ensure that local authority chief executives, directors of children's services and local housing authorities are aware that funds are available to assist foster carers, and to encourage them to use this support as effectively as possible to help meet their responsibility as corporate parents to see that vulnerable looked after children have access to loving, stable homes.”
FosterTalk members can seek advice and guidance on this matter by contacting FosterTalk’s member helpline: 0844 800 3880 – option 0
Join our campaign for foster carers to be exempt from these changes
If you are a foster carer and think that this change may adversely affect you then please contact us. FosterTalk will pass all of your responses to the Children’s Minister Edward Timpson who has pledged that he will discuss with the DWP what more can be done to support foster carers on this issue.
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