Welfare Reform Bill

Memorandum submitted by Habinteg Housing Association (WR 63)

1. Introduction to Habinteg

1.1 Habinteg is a leading national provider of affordable, accessible homes. We have championed inclusion by building sustainable neighbourhoods of Lifetime Homes and wheelchair standard properties for disabled and non-disabled people to share and enjoy. Our thoughtful designs and strong focus on home adaptations make a real difference to people's quality of life.

1.2 Habinteg is established in over eighty local authority areas across England (from Cornwall to North Tyneside), with a scheme in Wales and sister associations in Scotland and Northern Ireland. We provide housing for around 3,400 households, including 1,200 households living in homes designed specifically for wheelchair users. We offer an on-site support service to a proportion of our disabled tenants and we manage a number of supported housing schemes with long term or short term residency.

1.3 We also offer housing design consultancy, strategic analysis, research expertise and guidance on good practice relating to housing and disability. We use our knowledge and experience to challenge negative social attitudes, to promote the rights of disabled people, to encourage and support independent living and to improve accessibility standards within housing.

1.4 With reference to the current submission, over 60% of our tenant households have a disabled family member, of whom around 60% again are in the 16-64 age range. Over 70% of disabled tenants are in receipt of DLA. Just over half of our tenant households (51%) contain a single person, with a further 31% containing two people.

2. Response to proposals in the Welfare Reform Bill

Habinteg’s submission concerns two issues covered by the Bill: Housing Benefit (under-occupation of social housing); and the Personal Independence Payment.

3. Housing benefit and under-occupation

3.1 The Government’s own Impact Assessment has shown that the under-occupation proposals are likely to affect around 32% of working age tenants in social housing. Our research at Habinteg indicates that close to two-thirds (64%) of properties occupied by tenants who are aged under 60 and in receipt of Housing Benefit are currently under-occupied, according to the Government’s proposed criteria. The majority of working age households living in our under-occupied properties (72%) have a disabled family member. At present, the Government proposes to exempt only those disabled people who need the additional bedroom for a non-resident carer who stays overnight. This is likely to apply to a small minority of our tenants.

3.2 Many of our properties, including those designed for wheelchair users, have been adapted to suit the particular tenant and family. While some of these adaptations are minor, other adaptations are much more substantial and have involved significant public expense. The idea that such tenants should move to other accommodation if they have an ‘extra’ bedroom is, in our view, very ill-advised as it will lead to more inefficient use of social housing resources.

3.3 There is a shortage of accessible homes, both for wheelchair users and for other people with physical and sensory disabilities. Our research report Mind the Step (Habinteg and London South Bank University, 2010) estimated that there are 78,300 wheelchair user households in England who have an unmet housing need (i.e. their home is unsuitable and they need specially adapted property). This study was based on data from the Government’s Survey of English Housing. Where the unmet need is for a full wheelchair standard property, this property is likely to be 20% larger than the majority of homes (including a Lifetime Home with its accessibility features).

3.4 Disabled people may have very legitimate reasons for needing extra bedroom space in their homes. This could be because they need to know they can have someone staying with them at times when they are ill or have been in hospital. This facility could extend to helping them to avoid a hospital stay or to be discharged more quickly. They may also have a large amount of assistive equipment that cannot be stored in a narrow hallway or they may need a room where home treatment can be carried out. These are very individual needs. How will they be assessed, or will people in these circumstances still be expected to move if they have an additional bedroom?

3.5 The accessibility of the local neighbourhood is also a crucial factor in ensuring that disabled tenants can live independently in their homes. Many tenants rely on having ready access to their GP and other medical services, as well as reasonable access to shops, leisure and education facilities and their established workplace. If the tenant has to move away from the immediate area to find a suitable home of the ‘right’ size, this may negatively affect their independence and life opportunities.

3.6 If disabled tenants are to be expected to move from their under-occupied homes to avoid paying a higher rent, where will they go? What if they are unable to find suitably adapted alternative accommodation? What will happen if they show that they have tried to find such accommodation but been unsuccessful? What if they find potentially suitable accommodation but it needs adapting? Who will pay to adapt the new property? And who will pay to remove the adaptations from the previous property, which will almost invariably be unsuitable for the next tenant?

3.7 We ask the Government to consider exempting households with a disabled member from the under-occupation provisions of the Bill. This could mean exempting people who are in receipt of disability-related benefits and/or people who are living in purpose-designed accessible homes or homes that have been adapted (or require to be adapted) for their use.

4. Case study of Habinteg tenant (under-occupation)

Ms P has been living in her three-bedroom house with her three year old son for just over a year. Her son, who is severely disabled, requires 24 hour care and uses a wheelchair full-time. Before moving to her current property, her son spent the first two years of his life in a local hospital.

Her property has a spare bedroom which is not occupied by a family member. Due to the severity of her son’s disability, he uses a number of large items of equipment, which are stored in this room. The room is also used by the carer who is required to stay overnight on occasions.

Ms P’s home currently meets the needs of both herself and her son. However, as he gets older they may need to reassess their situation. She believes she may require a larger home as in the near future her son will need two carers and more space to store his medical equipment. It terms of viewing her home as possibly under-occupied, Ms P says, "Sometimes it’s really, really squashy and we don’t know what to do but we have no choice. Sometimes some of the equipment is in his room and in mine as well and downstairs. The spare room is really small."

Ms P thinks that individual circumstances should be considered, especially when a member of the family is disabled. She says, "...I understand that they can cut it and it can go to somebody else who needs it but sometimes there is a difference with disabled people as well who need more room...not just for the kid who is disabled but also for all the equipment...yeah it can benefit other people as well but they can’t just do it like that."

When obtaining a home for applicants with a disabled family member, the process can be very time consuming and may require the help of a number of local service providers. In order to obtain her current property, Ms P had the help of social services, who recognised the need for a home large enough to accommodate the family as well as cater for their needs. When she moved into her current home, it was already adapted for a wheelchair user and had a through-floor lift. The additional adaptations required were permanent hoists in the living room, the son’s bedroom and the bathroom. The cost was approximately £12,000.

Re-housing someone in the position of Ms P and her son would mean: Re-adapting the property she would be moving into; moving her away from family, friends and neighbours, who are vital in providing respite care; and possibly moving her away from the medical and support staff on which she depends. Ms P says, "...this area is good...especially [the] doctors are near so if any problems my son’s GP and pharmacy are just around". There would also probably be additional costs (removal/installation of adaptations) in order to make her current home suitable for another family.

5. Personal Independence Payment and DLA

5.1 Habinteg has responded to the DLA consultation paper published in December 2010. The key points of our submission are set out below.

5.2 Disability Living Allowance is a distinctive and highly valued benefit. It was an early example of personalisation in services to disabled people, as it recognised the extra costs of disability and allowed people to decide how to use the funds in ways best suited to their own circumstances. Habinteg is pleased that the Government intends to keep these key features of DLA in its introduction of the Personal Independence Payment.

5.2.1 It is apparent that the projected cost savings involved in the reform of DLA will largely come from reductions in payments to people who receive lower levels of benefit, with a corresponding tightening of the eligibility criteria. The focus will be on supporting people with higher needs, ‘who face the greatest challenges to remaining independent and leading full and active lives’. We strongly disagree with this arrowing of emphasis, as DLA has always had a vital preventative role in at least three key ways: Enabling people to manage independently without recourse to social care funding; helping people to take up and maintain paid employment; and giving people freedom to get out and about and be involved in their local community, thus reducing the risk and effect of isolation and mental health problems. The planned course of action could therefore prove to be a major false economy, both financially and in terms of the human cost. Given this, we urge that a proportion of the budget for the new Personal Independence Payment be used to assist people who need a relatively low level of support but are subject to the kinds of risks described here.

5.4 Habinteg has a central objective to create and improve housing opportunities for disabled people. While the DLA consultation paper tends to assume that disabled people are already living in their own homes and may need extra support to maintain their independence, we are very aware of the large numbers of people, especially in younger age groups, who aspire to live in their own home or in a more independent environment but have not found a way of making this possible. They may end up staying indefinitely with their parents or living in residential care, the latter often at substantial cost to the public purse. We ask the Government to consider including one-off payments through PIP to help people to make a move and settle into their own accommodation, if and when they manage to find suitable housing.

5.5 While we agree that there have been some major advances over the past twenty years, we are concerned that a ‘broader definition of mobility’, as suggested in the consultation paper, may not reflect the major barriers that still exist, for example in respect of access to public transport. The ability to get around will also depend on such variables as the topography of the local area and whether it is city centre, rural or suburban. The existence of adaptations and equipment within the home is just one element, albeit often a crucial one, in facilitating an independent lifestyle. The proposals in the paper raise the possibility that someone will be penalised financially, in terms of loss of benefit, if they are able to move into a more accessible home or have adaptations carried out at public expense. The threat of such a penalty would be counter-productive, especially at a time when the individual may be beginning to experience greater freedom and potential to manage and develop their life.

May 2011