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MPs have overwhelmingly voted in a favour of a Bill which, if entered into law, would exempt social housing tenants who require a carer from the hated ‘bedroom tax’.

The ‘Carers Bedroom Entitlement (Social Housing Sector)’ Bill proposes that social housing tenants in receipt of Universal Credit or Housing Benefit should be entitled to one extra bedroom, when a person in that household is entitled to Carer’s Allowance.

The Bill would also exempt households in which a person requires an overnight carer.

MPs voted in favour of the proposal at its first reading by 204 to 8.

Introducing her Private Members Bill, Labour MP Barbara Keeley said:

“The Bill would exempt households with one additional room from the bedroom tax if a member of the household is entitled to carers allowance. It would also widen that exemption to households in which a person needs overnight care. Those simple measures would have a significant impact on a group of people who deserve support, rather than being unfairly hit financially, as they have been by this Government.

“I fully support my party’s plans to abolish the bedroom tax if elected in 2015, but it is also right that we should focus on the impact of the bedroom tax on the financial situation of unpaid family carers right now.

“More than 6.5 million people across the UK are unpaid family carers, and they face a host of financial, emotional and practical challenges due to their caring. Ignoring that, Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members of this House voted for the bedroom tax to hit at least 60,000 of those carers. Since then, confusion has been caused by Government Members suggesting that unpaid carers are somehow exempt from the bedroom tax; they are not.

“A disabled person who needs overnight care from a paid care worker or non-resident relative is exempt from the bedroom tax, but where that care is provided unpaid by a partner or another carer living in the same house, they are hit by the tax. That is inconsistent and unfair.

She added: “My Bill differs in the fact that it relates specifically to carers. It proposes simple measures that would improve the financial situation of carers and their families. If it progresses, it would address one of the most unfair outcomes of the bedroom tax: the impact it has had on unpaid carers.

“Subjecting carers to the bedroom tax was always illogical as well as unfair.”

Describing how the Bill would exempt people who require an overnight carer, Barbara Keeley said:

“The second part of the Bill addresses the issue of overnight care. Current exemptions to the bedroom tax fail to recognise all those who need an additional bedroom for care needs, because they apply solely to the overnight care needs of the tenant or their partner, and only when a non-resident provides that care. Those people are denied an additional room if the partner or other person living in the home provides the care unpaid. If a disabled child, older parent or another disabled relative lives with them and needs overnight care, those needs for an additional room are not taken into account either.

“The exemption for disabled children relates only to those who cannot share a room with a sibling, not to those who need overnight care. My Bill would address that imbalance and widen the exemption to any person in the house who needs overnight care, not just the tenant or partner. I know that that anomaly has had a negative impact on many carers and their families.”

Conservative MP David Nuttall opposed the Bill, saying:

“I rise to oppose the motion. Let me say at the outset that the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), in moving the motion, has demonstrated once again her long-standing concern for carers, and I am sure that that concern is shared by Members on both sides of the House.

“There is no doubt that in every constituency there are thousands of people who sacrifice their own interests to look after the welfare of others who need special care. Very often, but by no means always, it is for a member of their own family, and, of course, it is true that were it not for the support that carers provide, the burden of providing that care and support would very often fall on the state.

“The issue under discussion, however, is not whether carers provide valuable support, but whether it is right that taxpayers should be asked to pay for the provision of rooms in social housing which for the vast majority of the time stand empty and unused.”

He added: “The changes to housing benefit already take into account the specific needs of carers. Housing benefit is based on the occupation needs of the household, and the resident carer is allocated, and entitled to, their own bedroom.

“The regulations do not allow a claimant an extra bedroom for a non-resident overnight carer, but local authorities already have the discretion to determine whether an extra bedroom should be provided even when a qualifying benefit is not being paid to a claimant, if there is sufficient evidence that they require care during the night from a non-resident carer.”

The Bill will now be heard for a second time on Friday 21 November 2014, but is unlikely to become law unless the Tory-led coalition government supports the proposal.

You can find out how MPs voted here (column 162 to 167).

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Photo credit: xpgomes13 via photopin cc

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