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Wednesday 6th March 2013 | 06:30
By Daniel Bond
Children’s charities and care agencies have urged ministers to rethink their controversial ‘bedroom tax’ plans, amid fears the proposals could lead to adoptions being blocked.
The Government was facing fresh criticism last night over its plans to introduce an under-occupancy charge, after PoliticsHome revealed the changes could disrupt adoptions and have a "devastating" impact on the care system.
Ministers have pledged to end the “national crisis” in the adoption sector and boost the number of families adopting, with David Cameron describing the number of children lost in the care system as a "scandal".
But adoption charities and agencies now fear controversial plans to penalise social housing tenants who under-occupy their homes could cause further damage to the UK’s already sluggish adoption sector.
Under the proposals, dubbed the 'bedroom tax' by critics, children of the same gender will be expected to share a bedroom until they reach the age of 16. But many agencies assessing families insist children be placed in households where they will have their own bedroom – leading to fears some adoptions will have to be halted.
Care charity Adoption UK last night confirmed a number of adopters had contacted them to raise concerns about the impact of the changes on their family.
Speaking to PoliticsHome, Adoption UK chief executive Hugh Thornbery described the changes as “worrying”, and warned they may prevent badly-needed adopters from coming forward.
“Because of their early childhood experiences and circumstances of their adoption, it is often a requirement that adopted children have their own bedroom,” he said. “If we are to strive for the best outcomes for these children, we must not be implementing reforms that hamper those decisions that are made with the needs of the child in mind.”
Mr Thornbery said it was especially concerning that the problems had been raised at a time when “recruiting more families for the thousands of children waiting for an adoptive placement is high on the Government’s agenda”.
“We are surprised that the Government hasn’t taken this into consideration in drawing up the proposals and we hope to see this changed,” he added.
Darren Johnson, operational director of adoption agency Action for Children, said young people would only be placed in households where they would have to share a room as a “last resort”, and warned the under-occupancy rules would present “a number of issues”.
“As an agency we would be concerned if we were being put in a position policy-wise where we have to look at under 16s having to share bedrooms,” he told PoliticsHome.
“We would have concerns as an agency in terms of the implications, the impact, and the sustainability of placements if those rules were applied.”
Mr Johnson suggested the adoption sector would be “collectively” contacting ministers to raise concerns about the proposal and “flag up the risks” if the changes went ahead.
Speaking to PoliticsHome after the news emerged, Shadow Children’s Minister Lisa Nandy said it was “unbelievable” that ministers had not considered the “potentially devastating” impact of the proposals on adoption.
But the Department for Work and Pensions defended the plans, and confirmed adopted children will be included in the assessment as they are considered to be the claimants’ own child.
"Families with adopted children will be treated under the same rules as other families under the spare bedroom policy,” a spokesperson said. “Those families who feel a separate bedroom is essential can apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment and we've made £155m in funding available to councils for this."
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