Foster carers could lose £700 a year under government plans to cut benefits for social housing tenants deemed to have ‘spare' bedrooms - even if they are being used by fostered children, campaigners have warned.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) intends to use the Welfare Reform Bill to reduce housing benefit by up to 23% for tenants living in homes deemed too large for their needs.
The measure will hit 670,000 council and housing association tenants - a third of all working-age housing benefit claimants in the social rented sector across Great Britain.
But the National Housing Federation, which represents England's housing associations, and the Fostering Network, the UK's leading fostering charity, have voiced concerns the proposals would hit foster carers living in social housing.
Foster carers are required to have spare rooms for fostered children in order to foster. However, the proposals would mean foster carers in social housing are forced to pay the ‘spare room penalty' and many will be left out of pocket as they will have to meet the housing costs for fostered children themselves.
The DWP has suggested that households seeing their benefit reduced - by 13% for those with one 'spare' room and 23% for two or more 'spare' rooms - should 'move to accommodation which better reflects the size and composition of their household' - or make up the shortfall from other income sources.
Each claimant is expected to lose an average of £676 a year if the Government succeeds in introducing the measure in 2013. The move could mean some carers cannot afford to foster, putting more pressure on a system already suffering from a shortage of foster carers.
The Fostering Network estimates that thousands more foster carers are needed across the UK.
Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network, said: "Fostered children need to have their own bedrooms in almost all circumstances so these proposals will put foster carers in social housing under real financial pressure.
"These plans will also make it even more difficult for families in social housing to become foster carers at a time when we urgently need more people to come forward."