The kidney patient subject to bedroom tax - even if room is used for dialysis machine

Plight of MP’s brother raises questions about fairness of controversial welfare reform

It has been 30 years since Rivers Pound moved into his specially adapted council flat in Earl’s Court, west London. The 55-year-old has been on and off dialysis since his first kidney failure at 19, and his flat was one of three in the block designed with its own dialysis room, part of a council scheme to house residents with renal problems.

Then, in April, the Coalition introduced its welfare reforms and everything changed. Although Rivers’s body was rejecting a third transplanted kidney, he was not on dialysis at that moment and so the room that housed his equipment was deemed surplus to requirements.

According to the inflexible rules of the under-occupancy policy known as the “bedroom tax”, he had to find another £120 a month for this “spare” room – or find a new home.

Too proud to accept charity, the musician decided to sell his only possession of value: a piano worth £1,500. He hoped it would cover the extra rent until he was on dialysis again, and thus free from the charge.

Growing up as one of seven children, Rivers Pound is used to being self-sufficient. As a result he didn’t want to ask his siblings for help – even though his brother is an MP. Yet his story so encapsulated the new uncompromising welfare system introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions that last week Rivers’ elder brother Stephen – the shadow minister for Northern Ireland – felt compelled to raise it in Parliament.

Without at first revealing the family connection, the MP said: “There is a young man who lives in Earl’s Court who is in total renal failure. May I tell you that this man’s spare bedroom is a dialysis unit. He has been told that he now has to pay the bedroom tax.”

It was only in his concluding remarks that Stephen Pound revealed his personal interest, saying his brother faced losing his home “for being a kidney patient”.

“[Rivers] is not happy to accept money from the family because he’s proud,” Mr Pound said. “We’ve offered to help, but to a certain extent, why should he have to ask his family? He’s desperately upset by the whole thing. His attitude has been: ‘Don’t make a fuss, I’ll work it out’.”

The powerful drugs Rivers is on to stop him rejecting his artificial kidney leave him drained. He is often too exhausted to walk. Every six months he has an operation at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington to change a stent. He wants to work but his health often gets in the way.

“I did try and do some voluntary work a year ago, to see if I could do something when I wasn’t in hospital,” he says. “I was leading horses for riding for the disabled but after the first attempt I became very ill with a bone infection and my leg was very painful.”

On top of the failing kidney and the bone infection, he suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome so severe that he is on a waiting list for surgery. Despite the litany of problems, fitness-to-work assessor Atos has now twice declared him well enough for the workplace. “I was on incapacity benefit, but it’s income support now,” he says. “I have to go to the jobcentre because I was considered well enough to work. I’ve just been sent another 19-page form to fill out. It is the third Atos form I’ve had to complete.

“I tell them I’m waiting for a transplant and not well. The problem is some days I’m OK and others I’m really not. I’m so depleted of energy a lot of the time and some days I just know I won’t be great that day. I have to go to the jobcentre for an interview and the last few times I’ve had to do it over the phone because I haven’t been well enough to go.”

Though he is not currently using his dialysis machine, he knows he soon will be. “I’m not using it at the minute because I had a transplant in 1995, but no transplant lasts forever and I was on dialysis for 20 years waiting for this one. It started failing about two or three years ago and it’s petering out.

“In the last few months I’ve been having tests to see if I can go back on the list for another transplant. But having waited at least 20 years last time I don’t expect a kidney to just arrive – and in the meantime I’ll need dialysis.

“They don’t look ahead or at the practicalities. It’s far cheaper for me to use dialysis at home than in a hospital taking up a bed. It’s a false economy, surely.”

Stephen Pound, the Labour member for Ealing North, feels outraged on his younger brother’s behalf. In an interview with The Independent, he criticises the inflexibility of the policy.

“It’s absolutely heartbreaking and it’s the lack of any local ability to look at this humanely that worries me,” he adds. “There’s no wriggle room at all. At the moment they just say that if he pays the extra money, he can stay there.”

A DWP spokesperson said: "Paying for housing benefit for spare rooms is simply unaffordable, but we've been clear from the outset that we would support people who might find the changes difficult. This is why we've given councils 190m in extra funding, some of which has been specifically targeted at disabled people living in adapted homes. People should speak to their council about whether they are eligible for this help."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Designer / Design Director

£38000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This B2B content marketing agen...

Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn