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Fears foster care will be hit by bedroom tax
8:00pm Monday 4th March 2013 in News
FEARS are being raised that Government welfare changes will deter people in social rented homes from fostering children – just as Swindon Council is appealing for more foster carers to come forward.
The family placement team will hold an event at the Lyndhurst Centre in Park North today from 6pm to 7.30pm, to find people to help make up the shortfall of foster carers. It is estimated that nationally an extra 9,000 foster carers must be found.
However, commentators have raised concerns that potential foster carers will be deterred by the so-called ‘bedroom-tax’, which will affect 1,180 council tenants and 520 housing association tenants next month.
Social housing tenants deemed to have one ‘spare’ bedroom will lose 14 per cent of their housing benefit (on average £11 to £12 per week) and those with two or more spare bedrooms will lose 25 per cent (on average £21.81 per week).
But housing benefit regulations do not include foster children as part of the household so bedrooms for foster children will be deemed empty and carers will lose money – even though they may have children in them.
Coun Cindy Matthews, Labour’s shadow lead for children services, said: “The way the bedroom tax has been applied means that foster carers living in social housing could be forced to pay for part of their rent.
“This would act as a big disincentive for foster carers currently living in social housing to continue to support foster children. To me it seems unjust that bedrooms accommodating foster children will be deemed by the government as ‘under-occupied’ and that foster children are not being treated as a normal part of the families they live with.”
Jim Humphries, 50, of Shrivenham, who started fostering last year through the Core Assets Fostering, said: “I’m lucky enough not to be on housing benefit because my wife works and I’m a full-time foster carer, but it’s very sad they’re doing that. It might put people off. If they’re on housing benefit, they’re going to lose £50 a month.
“I think they should be counted as part of the household because when you do foster children and young people you are expected to take that person into your family and treat them as one of your own. They become part of the household.”
Government funding for discretionary housing payments will increase from £88,000 in 2012/13 to 281,000 in 2013/14, which Swindon Council can use as short-term assistance for those on housing benefits who are unable to pay some of their rent. The council is in the process of reviewing its discretionary housing payments policy, and foster carers are likely to be given assistance under this.
Coun Russell Holland, cabinet member for One Swindon, localities and housing, said he could see how the change might deter foster carers but he would not know for certain until research had been undertaken.
He added: “We will look at each case on its own merits and see what we can do to help with each individual circumstance, but we’re restricted to what we can do because ultimately it’s a change in the law about social security benefits, which is a national and not a local matter.”