A Labour council has been condemned after it advised families faced with a cut in their housing benefits to foster a child to get around the rules.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg appearing on LBC radio. Photo: LBC
Ealing Council is West London has sent out a leaflet to residents encouraging them to take vulnerable children into their homes because foster carers are exempt from the new housing benefit rules.
Under the Government’s proposals, people in social housing will receive a cut in housing benefit where they are deemed to have spare bedrooms.
The changes have been labelled by critics as a “bedroom tax”, however Government ministers have dubbed the measures a “spare room subsidy”.
Ministers say the under occupancy penalty is intended to ensure that the best use is made of social housing and reduce the housing benefit bill, currently more than £20 billion a year.
The Department for Work and Pensions estimates that the change will save taxpayers £480 million a year and affect around 600,000 people. The average loss for a single empty bedroom will be £14 per week.
The Ealing Council leaflet said: “Are you a tenant or resident that will be affected by the changes to housing benefit? From 1st April 2013, if you rent a council or housing association home and you have one or more spare bedrooms your housing benefit may be reduced.
“If you are in this postion, then you could think about using your spare room to foster. Foster children are not counted as part of your household for housing benefit purposes.”
Speaking during his Call Clegg programme on LBC 97.3 Radio, Nick Clegg said that councils should not be encouraging tenants to take in foster children simply to cover the cost of the so-called “bedroom tax”.
He said he was “not happy” about the claims made by a caller, known only as Lisa, about Ealing Council.
The caller told how she had recently received a letter from the council saying she could “subsidise” the loss to her benefits payments by taking in a foster child.
Mr Clegg said it was wrong for councils to suggest families should take such a drastic step simply to cover a £14-a-week cut in benefit.
“I think it is not right for Ealing Council to take what was an exemption that we announced a couple of weeks ago when we said foster families will not be covered by this and then to use that locally to say ‘why don’t you turn yourself into a foster family?’,” he said.
“I am not happy at all with the idea of councils taking an exemption which we provided as a benefit for foster families and encouraging people to change the way they are as families just to avoid that £14 extra.
“I understand this is a difficult decision. I cannot stress enough – we have provided more money, we have introduced a number of exemptions, we are prepared to do more as the thing comes into effect in order to make sure the hardest cases are properly and sensitively dealt with.”
David Millican, the leader of Ealing Conservatives, said: “It’s quite wrong to link the vulnerable children in foster care to changes to the benefits system.
“It is incompetence by the council and is completely insensitive. It’s wrong to link these children with people who are themselves vulnerable because of their low incomes – that’s not to say they couldn’t be good foster parents, obviously they could, but to say that they can save some money by taking foster children is the completely wrong reason.
“You’re not allowed by law to take children to make money out of it. It is totally inappropriate for the council to give people financial incentives to take children in to foster care.”
A spokesman for Ealing Council said: “We want as many people as possible to consider fostering and recognise welfare benefit changes may have appeared to be a barrier to some families who could become potential foster parents.
“Until recently foster families were not exempt from the changes regarding spare bedrooms so we produced a leaflet to explain the position.
“There is a significant shortage of foster carers, nationally and locally and we want as many people as possible to think about providing a home to a child who needs a family. We have a very rigorous assessment process and if financial gain was the sole motivation the applicant would not be approved.”
SOURCE: The Telegraph