By a Newsnet reporter
The Scottish Local Government Forum Against Poverty and Rights Advice Scotland have produced a joint report showing that UK government changes to housing benefit will cost Scottish tenants £53m annually.
Dubbed the bedroom tax, the changes will come into effect on April 1st, and will penalise housing benefits claimants in social housing who are deemed to have spare bedrooms.
The UK government claims it is unfair that the benefits system is used to provide homes for people which are larger than they could afford if they were working. However many Scottish local authorities and housing associations say that there simply isn’t a large enough stock of one bedroom flats and apartments, forcing them to house people in homes which the UK government regards as too big.
Around 95,000 Scottish tenants are believed to be affected by the changes. Affected tenants are typically set to lose between £9 and £12 a week in benefit.
Fears have already been expressed that councils and housing associations will see rent arrears soar as a result of the changes, which affect tenants who are already subsisting on breadline incomes. SNP controlled Dundee council has stated that it will not evict tenants who get into arrears as a result of the bedroom tax.
The report from the SLGAP and Rights Advice Scotland also warns that benefit cuts due to the bedroom tax represent just a small proportion of the benefits cuts planned by the UK government. The benefits cap, changes to child benefit changes and changes to disability allowance assessments – will together lose claimants in Scotland around £2.1bn.
Speaking to the BBC, Richard Gass, chairman of Rights Advice Scotland, said:
“Much of the public’s anger is currently turned on the unfair and discriminatory ‘bedroom tax’ despite it representing less than 5% of the total cuts being made.
“While the unfairness of the ‘bedroom tax’ makes this understandable it is important that we don’t lose sight of the much larger financial damage being inflicted by other measures.”
SNP Spokesperson for Work and Pensions Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP has written to Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson MP expressing her concern following the release the report. Ms Swinson was one of only 4 Scottish MPs to vote in favour of the bedroom tax at Westminster despite her constituency of East Dunbartonshire having the highest proportion of under-occupancy in Scotland.
Commenting, Dr Whiteford MP said:
“It is astounding Jo Swinson MP backed the Tories rather than looking out for some of her most disadvantaged constituents.
“The new figures show that the under-occupancy penalty could cost Scots council and housing association tenants £53m a year. East Dunbartonshire has the highest proportion of under-occupancy in Scotland- where 56% of working age tenants are on housing benefit.
“By voting for the ‘bedroom tax’ Jo Swinson MP has failed to acknowledge the underlying shortage in affordable housing in Scotland and the backdrop of changing demographics. What makes the Government’s under-occupancy rules fundamentally unworkable is the mismatch between available social housing stock and the needs of tenants and prospective tenants.
“As long as decisions about welfare are made in Westminster, Scotland will continue to have unfair and damaging policies forced on it by governments that we didn’t vote for. That is why Scotland needs to have the powers of independence, so that we can make decisions in and for Scotland.”