A disabled woman who has been hit by the controversial ‘bedroom tax’ has challenged her local MP to foot the bill and claim it back on expenses.
Sarah Ashford is losing out on £12.49 a week due to her guest room at her Havebury Housing home, in Goldsmith Close, Bury St Edmunds, despite receiving just £102.70 a week in income support.
The 49-year-old, who suffers from cerebral palsy and lung disease Sarcoidosis, has written to Bury MP David Ruffley - opening with the question ‘I am writing to see if you could please pay my bedroom tax and then claim it back on your expenses?’.
Miss Ashford says she has been turned down for discretionary help towards the payment and is refusing to pay.
She said: “With the bedroom tax and council tax it’s about £14 a week. That leaves me £88.70 a week to pay all my utility bills.
“My house has been adapted for my disability needs. When I had my wet room fitted it was at a cost of £7,000. To move out they would have to do that again but it would cost a lot more money this time.
“At the moment I’m standing my ground and refusing to pay it. I’m staying where I’ve lived for 24 years and feel safe and secure .”
Mr Ruffley said he has written to the head of housing at St Edmundsbury Borough Council ‘to discover what discretion they can exercise in her case’ given that she lives in an adapted property. He said: “The operation of the benefits system must in this case take account of my constituent’s needs as a disabled person.”
Karen Mayhew, chief executive at Havebury Housing Partnership, said it has 593 households among its 6,000 homes with spare rooms.
She said: “We are aware and understand Miss Ashford’s concerns.” Mrs Mayhew pointed to Havebury’s welfare and benefits advice team who can ‘help tenants manage their finances’.
She added they are ‘encouraging and helping people move through mutual exchanges wherever possible’.
A spokeswoman for St Edmundsbury Borough Council said: “Housing benefit is assessed against national criteria and if it does not cover the full cost of the rent it is up to the tenant to pay the difference to their landlord.
“Separately, the Government cut the money councils have for Council Tax Benefit by 10% so those who previously received a full discount on their Council Tax bill are also now expected to contribute.
“In St Edmundsbury we ask those who previously paid nothing to pay 8.5% of the total bill – that’s around £1.40 a week for a band B property.”