Eleven children’s charities, including Fostering Through Social Enterprise, have joined together to urge Iain Duncan Smith, the minister implementing the so-called bedroom tax, and chancellor George Osborne to reconsider the decision not to exempt foster carers from under-occupancy penalties.
From April, under the Welfare Reform Act, fostered children will not be counted when assessing the number of occupants in a social housing property. This means foster carers’ properties will be deemed under-occupied, and they will have their housing benefit reduced. Although foster carers can apply to their local housing service’s Discretionary Housing Fund to make up the difference, this fund is not ring-fenced and it is now clear that this solution is extremely unlikely to work well.
In an open letter to the ministers, the charities have highlighted alarming stories from foster carers around the UK, including some who have been told that they will not have access to this fund, and others who will receive only a contribution to the loss of housing benefit, rather than covering the full amount.
Foster carers have also reported receiving visits and letters from the housing department saying they will have to move into smaller properties. Some foster carers have been told they will have access to the discretionary fund, but will have to reapply every four to six weeks, even though they may have children placed with them on a long-term or permanent basis.
In the letter the charities said: “There is already a recruitment crisis in foster care with 9,000 new foster carers needed across the UK and the Government acknowledges and supports the urgent need to find more foster carers. These new rules will make it even more difficult for people in social housing to become foster carers at a time when we urgently need more to come forward.
“The Government proposed these changes to address residential under occupancy and to provide incentives for employment. Neither of these rationales is relevant to foster carers who are required to have a spare room in order to provide homes for vulnerable children.
“The Government has already made a commitment to review the situation for disabled people and we believe the applicability to foster families should also be reviewed. We urge you to look again at the rules and exempt foster carers from the new size criteria.”
Following the Government’s commitment to review the situation for disabled people, the charities welcome the suggestion from Steve Webb MP in the Parliamentary debate on 27 February that a similar review could happen for foster carers.
The letter was signed by:
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