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It was good to see that the problem of online gaming highlighted in DDN (‘Game On’, February, page 8), with a comparison drawn between the responsible/uncontrolled use of alcohol. The article indicated that the compulsive player can become isolated from family and that the playing of such computer games, especially online, causes friction not only within the game-player’s family but can affect other areas such as education.
However there was one element that was overlooked in the article – that games can also allow the player to withdraw from family, friends and their problems; again akin to the use of alcohol and other substances. At times the gaming allows an adoption of an unreal and misperceived persona.
As a young persons’ substance misuse treatment nurse, based within a child and adolescent mental health service, I have worked with young people who have poor self-esteem/self-worth issues, combined with low mood and a lack of self-identity. Not only have these young people become enmeshed in a lifestyle of late-night game-playing that subsequently disrupts education, family and peer socialisation, they became even more isolated and withdrawn, living out a fantasy life through the ‘on-screen’ persona.
When working with these young people they talk of the large amount of friends they have; however it transpires that their friends are other online players from various points across the world, having long ago disengaged from their actual peers.
It has proved very difficult working with these young people in a multi-agency systemic manner, as the adverse issues of gaming are not recognised as at least a contributory adverse factor, due to the lack of evidence base.
Russell S Tullett, specialist nurse, young persons’ substance use and team lead, CAMHs, Guernsey
I am writing to point out an error in the advice given by Kirstie Douse in your February issue (DDN, February, page 10). The writer of the letter states that she has been advised by her council that her housing benefit will be reduced from April 2013 and she would have to share a room with her son. This is incorrect and the rules are laid out clearly at: http://bit.ly/VLkixm
The author of the letter should be reassured that she is not under accommodated for benefit purposes. However, she should ring her local authority to check they hold the correct household information. It’s more than likely the council sent out a blanket letter to all residents to warn of any possible changes.
M Beach, by email
Re your piece in the last DDN about the bedroom tax: the answer given was incorrect. The issue was around a mother with a child in a two-bed flat and the reply said she would be hit by the tax as she is only entitled to a one-bed flat. She is in fact entitled to her two-bed flat without any reductions in benefit, as her child by law must have a room of his own.
Rose Latham, Lancashire
Release solicitor Kirstie Douse replies:
The information provided is not factually incorrect but comes down to what is defined as a bedroom for the purposes of the Housing Benefit (Amendment) 2012 (‘the bedroom tax’). This is a complex issue, not least, because the regulations do not provide a definition; rather it is left to local authorities to determine the number of bedrooms in a dwelling for the purposes of Regulation b13 and whether the property is under occupied (subject to the conditions as laid out in your letter).
The DWP circular (HB/CTB A4/2012) relating to the new ‘bedroom tax’ states ‘We will not be defining what we mean by a bedroom in legislation…’ Unlike private renting tenants where the Local Housing Allowance scheme excludes living rooms in the bedroom calculations, social tenants may in fact find themselves in the situation described in my previous column, as living rooms are not explicitly excluded in the new regulations.
For social tenants there is little existing guidance that provides a clear definition on what and what is not a bedroom. However, the Rent Officer Handbook (2009) used by local authorities, states:
‘Under the Housing Benefit Scheme, rent officers treat bedrooms and rooms suitable for living interchangeably, Local Reference Rents are based on total number of habitable rooms (bedrooms and living rooms…)’
This could be why we are starting to see some local authorities determining that a living room should count as a bedroom. In our opinion this is wrong and should be challenged. You are correct to say that the first step should be to challenge the local authorities ‘under-occupancy’ determination in such circumstances, and even if they do not review their decision in favour of the tenant, legal advice should sought as to whether their decision can be judicially reviewed.
I can assure you this is the advice Release has been providing to those affected by the new regulations and this should have been explicit in my column. However the advice provided on how to manage shortfall in housing benefit is correct and will hopefully assist those impacted by the ‘bedroom tax’. Unfortunately, as with any new legislation, until the regulations are tested in the courts concrete definitions are difficult to provide and, in the meantime, we will have a postcode lottery in what local authorities determine is a ‘bedroom’.