Council withdraws benefits from man with autistic son

  • @jerometaylor

A London borough which was forced to pay out damages to a father after his autistic son was illegally removed from his care have threatened to withdraw the family's housing benefit.

Mark Neary, who fought a lengthy court battle to have his son Steven returned to him after he was wrongly removed from his care, says he risks being made homeless after his housing benefit was reassessed by Hillingdon Council.

The 53-year-old relationship counsellor has lived with Steven in a small flat for the last three years. He works around 21 hours a week and, until recently, received help to pay for some the monthly rent. Following a change of employer earlier this summer he was left with a slightly reduced annual income and so applied to Hillingdon for an increase in his housing benefit. Instead he was told by housing officers that the contributions would be stopped altogether.

The decision came just weeks after Hillingdon was ordered by a court to pay Steven £35,000 in damages after they illegally deprived him of his liberty for nine months. Hillingdon insists the decision to cancel his housing benefit has nothing to do with the payment of damages.

Despite paying housing benefit for the last three years Hillingdon has now decided that Mr Neary is ineligible for financial help towards his rent because he owns a family home with his wife. Mr Neary moved his son out of the family home because his wife fell ill and it was not in Steven's best interests to return there.

Hillingdon have suggested he move back into the house but he insists that his wife's illness would make it impossible. A second option is to transfer the tenancy agreement to Steven's name. But the difficulty with this option is twofold. Because of Steven's autism, he would need to be assessed to see whether he has the mental capacity to become a tenant – something that is unlikely given that the Court of Protection has already accepted he does not have the capacity to make key decision such as where he lives. Secondly, once the damages are transferred to Steven he will be £35,000 better off and would likely be considered inadmissible for housing benefit.

"We're just at a loss at the moment," Mr Neary told The Independent.

"The situation feels very bleak."

Linda Sanders, Director of Social Care, Health and Housing at Hillingdon Council, said: "We are working hard to find a solution after Mr Neary indicated a key change in his personal circumstances which we had to follow up. All of this is in no way related to his son Steven's care and is certainly not an attempt to 'claw back' any compensation."