A mother of two from Billingshurst is railing against the so-called ‘Bedroom tax’ which she says will force her to scrimp on food for her two sons aged nine and 15.
Housing Benefit reforms that take effect from April 1 mean Deborah Joseph, of Frenches Mead, must pay an additional £75 a month for her three bedroom dwelling.
The 44 year old who is on full benefits, including disability allowance and a carer’s premium because her eldest son has special needs, is being penalised for ‘under-occupying’ her residence, as defined by the new legislation.
It states her requirements to be only two bedrooms because children of the same sex up to the age of 16 should be sharing a bedroom.
David Standfast, the chief executive of Horsham-based housing association Saxon Weald, publicly raised his organisation’s concerns about the ‘Bedroom Tax’ in the County Times two weeks ago, citing a list of exceptions that do not exist, but should in their opinion.
When Deborah first heard about the reforms she believed she would be exempted because of her son’s recognised ‘social, communication and emotional behavioural difficulties’.
“He has great difficulty sharing his space and his possessions and he can get very upset very easily and very quickly, and sometimes responds aggressively and violently,” Deborah told the paper.
“If they had to share a space I would be constantly worried that Matthew was going to turn on my youngest at any point,” she added.
However, Matthew’s special needs to not make the family exempt and the unemployed mother of two, a former supply teacher, says she ‘would not even consider’ letting them share a room.
From April 1 she will now have to pay £75 extra towards her housing benefit which Deborah says will necessarily have to be found from the family’s food budget.
“It’s difficult and I am worried,” she said. “I try to only spend £50 a week on food for us and now I am going to have to stick to that. It sometimes used to go up to £60 but with this £75 tax there is no room for that.”
Fortunately her eldest son will turn 16 in August at which point she can stop paying the £75 as he will be entitled to his own room under the new legislation.
“This makes it absolutely pathetically stupid that for five months I have to do this,” said Deborah. “But there is no leeway.”
But what of the principle behind the reforms that the children of poorer working families who cannot afford separate rooms have to share bedrooms out of necessity, so why shouldn’t those on housing benefit?
Deborah said: “Just because some people can’t afford that and they are not fortunate enough to be able to access benefits, I don’t think it’s fair to say because of that situation we’ve got to be in the same situation.
“Saying you are young enough to share a room is getting a bit dictatorial,” she said.