Final plea to ministers over ‘spare bedroom tax’ for foster carers

Government plans may dissuade people in social housing from fostering at a time when there is a national shortage of 9,000 carers

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith (Pic: Steve Back/Rex)

Eleven leading children’s charities have written an impassioned letter to ministers urging them to finally make foster carers exempt from the government’s so-called spare bedroom tax.

The move – set out in the Welfare Reform Act and currently facing a legal challenge at the High Court – means fostered children will not be counted when occupancy in a social housing property is assessed. As a result, foster carers will appear to have spare bedrooms and could see their housing benefit cut from April.

A discretionary £5m housing fund has been allocated to remedy the problem for foster carers specifically, but campaigners point out this money has not been ring-fenced and claim not all local housing departments are aware of it.

Confusion over housing fund

In the open letter to work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith – signed by eleven charities including the Fostering Network, Barnardo’s and the British Association of Adoption and Fostering – the concerns are put to the government.

The charities report that, despite the housing fund, some foster carers have been told they will have to move to a smaller home or reapply for the funding every four to six weeks, even if they are fostering children long term. Some have also been told they will receive only a small contribution towards their loss, while others were told they will have no access to the fund.

The letter highlights the national recruitment crisis in foster care – 9,000 new foster carers are needed across the UK – which the government has acknowledged and publicly supported.

Shadow children’s minister condemns bedroom tax

MPs, including the shadow children’s minister Lisa Nandy, social workers and foster carers have also condemned the government’s plans via social media.

Serious consequences for foster care

The charities’ letter stated: “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.”

It continued: “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 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.”

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