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Family of seriously ill man told housing benefit will be slashed under new bedroom tax rules

By Brett Campbell

A Belfast family have spoken of their outrage after receiving a letter notifying them that their housing benefit is to be cut because their three-bedroom family home has been designated as under-occupied under new rules.

But Edward (62) and Anne Maginnis (56) say that because of Edward's deteriorating health, he requires a hospital bed and needs his own room.

The couple live in the house in east Belfast with their teenage daughter, Deborah.

"They should come out and see us - we are shocked that they would consider this a case of under-occupancy," they said.

The new rules are part of the Social Sector Size Criteria, dubbed a bedroom tax. They are being introduced by the Housing Executive to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK, and come into effect on Monday.

The changes mean the Maginnis family will see their housing benefit cut by £25 per month, but people with more than one spare room stand to lose more.

The Department for Communities confirmed that a welfare supplement payment previously agreed by the Executive would be made to mitigate any financial loss, and advised anyone with concerns to contact their landlord.

Mr and Mrs Maginnis, however, said they have been left worried and confused because the relief scheme has only been confirmed to run until the end of March 2020.

"Why is it only for three years, what happens after that?" they asked. "We feel like we are being penalised, if not now then further down the road."

Mr Maginnis sleeps only in short intervals, watching television or reading during the night because his pain keeps him awake.

"It's just not practical or possible to share a room," Mrs Maginnis said. "Even if a bed could fit in my room I would be no use to him as a carer because I wouldn't get any sleep."

Her husband suffers from numerous respiratory illnesses, osteoporosis and arthritis in his spine and hips. He relies on community care visits and the care he receives from Anne just to get by. "I have shrunk from 5ft 4ins to 4ft 7ins in five years - my spine is just crumbling," he said.

"The exposed nerve endings in his back are hypersensitive and as a result he is on morphine around the clock and regularly takes shaking fits," Mrs Maginnis added. "It's unbelievable. Where do they want me to sleep?"

A spokesperson for the Department of Communities said: "The department has been working with housing and advice organisations to raise awareness of the changes and will continue to do so in the forthcoming weeks as the changes are introduced."

A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations welcomed the relief arrangements that have been put in place by Stormont to ensure no household will end up worse off because of the bedroom tax.

However, they added: "We have always argued that the bedroom tax is a punitive measure that will significantly impact many households in Northern Ireland."

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