The Department of Work and Pensions has rejected any changes to its new minimalist regulations to exempt victims of domestic violence -mainly women – from paying the ” bedroom tax ” and helping them to find out how they could qualify to keep more of their benefits.
As I reported ten days ago the release of minutes from the little known Social Security Advisory Committee revealed in July the body chaired by Stephen Brien who worked for Ian Duncan Smith’s think tank had written to the ministry criticising the proposed regulations for being too narrow and the ministry for not running a prominent campaign to let victims know they will now be exempt.
The exemption applies to anybody who wants to stay in their own home and has thrown out an abusive partner and enrols in a sanctuary scheme – which provides extra locks, a fireproof letterbox and in extreme cases a reinforced door to a ” panic room” should the abusive partner return and break into the house.
The problem is that not all women know about this and the exemption only applies to council homes and flats. Also abuse from stalkers or strangers is not covered by the new regulations.
Mr Brien wrote: “Given the vulnerable situations of those affected, there is a compelling case for the Department to examine what options exist in terms of proactively identifying those potentially affected. This should be supplemented by a strong communications strategy that sets out clearly the criteria for this exemption, along with guidance on how to access it.”
“There is a risk that a number of claimants entitled to take advantage of this scheme, particularly those who have already benefitted from a sanctuary scheme security adaptation prior to these regulations coming into force, will be unaware of this change.”
Ministry rejects plea to change the regulation
But the DWP has told me not only will there be no changes but they had already implemented the regulations which came into force on October 1.
A DWP spokesperson said:
“The Department offers support to victims of domestic abuse, whether in the private rented sector or not. The benefit system acts as a safety net for people who find themselves in need of financial support with living and housing costs for a variety of reasons. A range of Universal Credit measures are designed to support victims of domestic abuse, including special provisions for temporary accommodation, same day advances, easements from work-related requirements and signposting to expert third-party services.”
Now for these regulations to become law they have to be scrutinised by Parliament. So I looked up what had happened.
It turns out the ministry laid the regulations before the House of Commons and the House of Lords on September 9 – a Thursday evening just before MPs and peers went off for the weekend. They were laid under what is known as a negative statutory instrument – which means that unless a peer or a MP objects they automatically can become law three weeks later.
Not one MP or peer spoke up about this
The regulations were laid alongside numerous other regulations including changes to Covid 19 pandemic regulations. Not one MP or peer objected or even spoke about it.
They would not have known about the criticism from the watchdog body because its minutes had not been published then. Nevertheless this shows up the ineffectiveness of MPs and peers – who have more time – in scrutinising what the executive is doing.
Given the high profile issue of violence against women after the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met Police officer it is pretty deplorable that a ministry can get away with this.
Benefits watchdog keeps mum
I sent the ministry’s response to the watchdog body – which regards scrutinising regulations as its main priority – and it decided not to comment, preferring to keep silent about its advice being ignored .I haven’t had a reply from the House of Lords on why the new regulations were missed.
However I have discovered the ministry has issued new advice six days ago to its housing benefit officers. It is here and victims of domestic abuse should challenge officials about getting an exemption.
For those in England I would suggest contacting Shelter. The charity has a comprehensive guide for victims of domestic abuse here. It includes a list of other charities who can help.
So if the ministry, the social security watchdog and Parliament are so ineffectual, at least this blog can highlight some information so more people know about it.
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