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Moving in with partner = benefit cut as I am assumed to be financially supported by them

Comment 20th July 2010

 

Dear Nick Clegg,

This website is a fantastic idea! I would like to share with you a situation regarding Housing Benefit.

Due to a long-term serious health condition I claim incapacity benefit and housing benefit. When I moved in with my partner it was assumed by my council that my partner was financially supporting me. The result was Council Tax benefit was stopped and Housing Benefit reduced very significantly.

I have never been financially supported by my partner and we went to some lengths to explain and prove this with bank statements over the previous two years. We spent many months wrangling with the council, going back and forth which was less than pleasant. My partner works full time but earns less than 20k and we live in the south-east, where rent and cost of living is extremely high. Reducing Housing Benefit so drastically means I struggle to pay rent and have about 20 pounds a month left over to pay for anything else.

I went to speak to my then-MP Des Turner about this but he seemed less than interested, despite being on the select committee for disability.

I am a great deal poorer for pursuing my relationship. Since moving in with my partner the council have seen us as one entity and considers my partner's earnings fully available for my use. This is not the case – as a responsible adult I expect our incomes to remain separate, and I have no access to his income. He pays me no money and we have no joint accounts. The Housing Benefit Assessment officer stated to me 'for Housing Benefit purposes we have to treat you as a couple even though your finances are kept separate'. I am at a loss to understand what living together has to do with financial circumstances.

Equally disturbing is the Housing Benefit form itself – endlessly long and repetitive, and must be filled in repeatedly at two yearly intervals to check the claimant hasn't become a Hardened Criminal Benefit Fraud in the meantime. My non-disabled partner has consistently been pestered to fill out part of the form. In order to validate MY claim, he has to disclose his income and provide payslips, bank statements and proof of identity. He himself has no reason to claim benefit. We are treated as co-claimants, despite the fact that if the claim is successful, my partner receives no money from it. What happens if one's partner refuses to fill it in? The answer is that the benefit is stopped without explanation other than 'we assume you no longer wish to claim benefit'. If one's relationship is less than sterling, if there are domestic abuse issues or estrangement which lead partners to refuse to fill in the form, I have no idea what claimants are to do with such a system.

I feel the current system penalises people who are so unfortunate as to be forced to claim benefit – a demeaning and depressing situation – who then wish to enter into a relationship and shared life with someone. Surely meaningful adult relationships are to be encouraged rather than penalised. (I later married my partner, which should at least make David Cameron happy.)

I have some suggestions: instead of assuming all partners share income, assume they don't. Put a cap on receiving Housing Benefit based on entire household income if you must, for example 30k between two childless people (different if you have children and how many you have). Take note of where in the country people live, because cost of living does differ. Stop asking for proof every five minutes, because once you've proved your identity and your income, this should stand.

A few words on my experience of claiming benefits: I have seen a very bad attitude from many of those working with me to process my claims. It seems everyone involved (including my partner, my doctor and my parents who wrote in support of me) is treated with suspicion, with a 'guilty until proven innocent' attitude repeatedly applied to me and my partner. I have had benefits stopped without explanation a number of times and questions asked about it only later. The benefit system seems to foster the idea that everyone on benefits is either currently a criminal, or a criminal waiting to happen. Please act to try to change public perception of the benefits system, instead of encouraging this attitude as Labour did. And please work with those professionally involved with benefit claimants including council workers to help them to understand their hardline attitudes are offensive and unhelpful.

Why does this matter?

 

Why my idea is important:

We live in the 21st century, not the nineteenth. Women no longer have an automatic reliance on men for income. Partners should have a clear right to their own independent incomes and not be assumed to be supporting one another financially, especially below a certain income bracket when it is obvious they can't afford to!

People on benefits are citizens of this country with the right to be treated humanely and with dignity.

Changing these laws and trying to encourage a better attitude in society and in the DWP/councils as a whole will lessen the strain on already ill and impoverished people. Getting rid of financial barriers to pursuing committed relationships will hopefully lead to a greater number of people able to move in together/get married if they so wish, which in itself increases health, wealth, individual life expectancy and social cohesion.

Thank you.

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