Councils in West Suffolk accused of ‘ignoring’ guidance over housing payments for disabled

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Charity bosses have hit out at West Suffolk councils for ‘ignoring’ guidance over emergency housing payments - a move which is ‘penalising’ disabled people in adapted homes and paying the ‘bedroom tax’.

The Papworth Trust criticised St Edmundsbury Borough and Forest Heath District Councils after submitting Freedom of Information requests over the number of successful applications for Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) from April to November.

It revealed that in St Edmundsbury, 51 out of 135 disabled people who applied received the payment compared to 46 out of 89 non disabled people. Meanwhile, in Forest Heath 36 out of 68 disabled residents secured the funding against 43 out of 91 non disabled.

The payments are for those struggling with their rent and, when introduced in April, the Government advised authorities to give priority to disabled residents in adapted homes and hit by the ‘bedroom tax’.

Councils can also disregard income from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) when deciding to award the payments. However, St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath both take DLA into account - a decision which has been criticised by Papworth.

David Martin, strategy director for the charity, said: “DLA is not supposed to cover housing costs. However, three quarters of councils are ignoring Government guidance to not take DLA into account when means testing so disabled people appear to have a higher income than non disabled people.”

Based on their research into effects of the ‘bedroom tax’, he noted that 9 in 10 disabled residents refused the payments then cut back on essentials such as food and drink.

He added: “This policy is penalising disabled people living in adapted homes. We’re calling on the Government to immediately ban councils from taking DLA into account when assessing income.”

A spokeswoman for both councils said: “We assess each application for DHP on its own merits, according to Government guidance. We do take DLA payments into account when looking at income and expenditure along with all additional day to day living costs or one off expenditure that may be incurred due to the nature of the disability.”

She noted that guidance prioritising those in accommodation substantially adapted for their needs is a ‘significant consideration’.

The guidance also gives other reasons why it may not be appropriate for a disabled person to move or make up the shortfall. She added: “We use this in considering each individual case on its own merits.”