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Run down on recent and anticipated welfare benefit changes

Bedroom tax

In April 2013, the so called “bedroom tax” was introduced, meaning that a single person or couple with no children will have their housing benefit reduced by 14% where they occupy two bedroom accommodation and 25% if they occupy three or more beds.

A three-day High Court case involving 10 claims started on 15 May 2013. The challenge will be that the regulation B13 of the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 discriminates against people requiring larger accommodation because of their disability.

Leigh Day, who represent Jacqueline Carmichael, explain on their website that since April 2013 her housing benefit was reduced by 14% despite the fact that she has spinal bifida and must sleep in a fixed position in a special hospital bed thereby requiring her husband to sleep separately in the second bedroom.

Benefit cap

On 22 May 2013, a judicial review challenging the £500 per week household benefit cap was issued by eight claimants in four families represented by Hopkin Murray Beskine. They challenge Part 8A of the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006, which was inserted by the Benefit Cap (Housing Benefit) Regulations 2012, SI 2012/2994, pursuant to section 96 of the Welfare Reform Act 2012. The claimants argue that the regulations are discriminatory and unreasonable. They also argue that the Secretary of State did not take proper account of the impact of the policy on women, children, the disabled, racial and religious minorities, and carers when formulating the policy. The cap will mean the total household benefits payable to families who do not work sufficient hours to receive Working Tax Credits (usually 16 or 35 hours per week) will be £500 per week per household for couples or lone parents (it is £350 per week for single adults).

Universal credit

After months of preparation and no little amount of crystal ball gazing, welfare reform is finally upon us; the so-called "spare room subsidy" is no more, the benefit cap begins, and the Government has rolled out Universal Credit in one of its four planned pathfinder areas. Universal credits were introduced on 29 April 2013 in selected areas of Greater Manchester and Cheshire.

Universal Credit will replace Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Housing Benefit and will be paid monthly into bank, building society and post office accounts. Jobcentre advisers and claimants will agree a Claimant Commitment, based on their individual circumstances, which will clearly set out the jobseeker’s responsibilities to find work. When a claimant starts work, Universal Credit will be steadily withdrawn as their income increases.

Three of the four pilots (Wigan, Warrington, Oldham) have been postponed until July, and only the Tameside pilot launched on 29 April. Ashton-under-Lyne is the first Jobcentre to take claims for Universal Credit on April 29 with Wigan, Warrington and Oldham Jobcentres trialling the new Universal Credit Claimant Commitment on the same date and taking claims for Universal Credit from July. The plan remains for the roll-out of Universal Credit to be completed across the UK by 2017.

“Teething problems” with the universal credit pilot scheme led on 16 May to the extension by six months of the “demonstration projects” examining the effect of paying housing benefit directly to social tenants rather than landlords.

DLA

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) started to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) from 8 April 2013 for people aged 16 to 64 with a long-term health condition or disability. Most people currently receiving DLA won’t be affected until 2015. Exceptions will be those currently receiving DLA who after October 2013, have a change in how their condition affects them and their DLA award is due to end and they haven’t received a renewal letter.

The Queen’s speech

  • Mesothelioma Bill – to make pension payments to people with diffuse mesothelioma where employer liability or employer liability insurance company can’t be traced.
  • Immigration Bill - requiring private landlords to check the immigration status of their tenets.
  • Care Bill – creating cap on care costs, extending means test threshold for financial assistance making sure no one has to sell their home in their lifetime to pay for residential care.
  • Local Audit and Accountability Bill – closing Audit Commission and allowing residents to veto excessive council tax rises by local “quangos”, for example waste disposal authorities and integrated transport authorities.
  • Deregulation Bill – reducing qualifying period for RTB from 5 years to 3 years and removing power from the ET to make wider recommendations in successful discrimination cases.