Military families to be exempt from “bedroom tax”
By Graeme Demianyk
The Government has revised its controversial clampdown on housing benefit by exempting armed forces families and foster carers from the so-called "bedroom tax".
Estimates based on official figures indicated 9,170 people living in social housing in Devon and Cornwall were set to lose an average of £637 a year.
Under the Government's proposals for an under-occupancy penalty – dubbed a "bedroom tax" by critics but a "spare room subsidy" by those for – people would receive a cut in housing benefit where they are deemed to have spare bedrooms.
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But after a sustained Labour campaign warning vulnerable families would suffer, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith today moved to "clarify" the rules – indicting he did not believe it to be a U-turn.
The exemption for military families is significant for the Westcountry as around 14,500 service personnel are based in Devon and Cornwall – one of the biggest concentrations in the country.
In a written ministerial statement, Mr Duncan Smith said: "People who are approved foster carers will be allowed an additional room, whether or not a child has been placed with them or they are between placements, so long as they have fostered a child, or become an approved foster carer in the last 12 months."
The statement adds: "Adult children who are in the armed forces but who continue to live with parents will be treated as continuing to live at home, even when deployed on operations.
"This means that the size criteria rules will not be applied to the room normally occupied by the member of the armed forces if they intend to return home."
The Department for Work and Pensions also confirmed councils would be given the power to exempt families with severely disabled children. Exemptions were already in place for pensioners.
In Prime Minister's Questions in January, Plymouth Moor View Labour MP Alison Seabeck raised the impact on military families.
Ms Seabeck said: "Is it right that a mother in my constituency may not, because of the Prime Minister's bedroom tax – and as confirmed by his Minister – be able offer her son, serving in Her Majesty's Armed Forces, either a home or a bedroom on his return from duty?"
David Cameron promised to look into the case, but stressed the need to get to grips with a £23 billion housing benefit bill, and pointed out many in privately rented properties "cannot afford extra bedrooms".
The Government says the proposals will save money and help deal with a housing shortage by encouraging people to move out of homes that are too big for them.