By Lynn Malone
A Scottish charity is urging Westminster to join forces with the Scottish government to help vulnerable people affected by the Bedroom Tax – following the news that Alex Salmond is to drive it out of Scotland.
Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) have called on the Scottish and UK government to work together to help the victims of the Under-Occupancy Charge.
The move comes as the Scottish government agreed to cover the full cost of housing benefit cuts.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that the government was “more than willing” to put in an extra £15million in this year’s budget to help victims. The money would be spent on discretionary housing payments (DHPs), distributed by councils, to help struggling tenants.
It would require Westminster lifting the cap on the amount of money Holyrood can provide to council tenants in arrears with their rent – entailing a change in UK government law.
CAS Policy Manager, Keith Dryburgh, said: “Over 80,000 households in Scotland are affected by the Bedroom Tax, which we believe is causing many of them huge distress. Those worst affected tend to be people who are already very vulnerable and need all the help they can get to cope with the impact of the change.
“Across Scotland, CAB advisers are seeing lots of people every week who are being hit by the Bedroom tax. In the evidence we have published so far we have highlighted the impact on specific vulnerable groups like disabled people, families with separated parents and people in rural areas who find it hard to move to alternative accommodation.
“We believe that these groups should be exempted from the policy altogether. But in the meantime anything that can be done to mitigate the impact of the policy on these groups is to be welcomed. It’s important that governments work together – and with local Councils, landlords and charities as well – to help people avoid falling into crisis.”
Miss Sturgeon has written to UK Welfare Minister Lord Freud asking for the cap to be lifted. She said the Scottish government had already provided as much help as legally possible to those suffering but were unfairly restricted in what they could do.
“The Scottish Government are currently spending up to the legal limit in order to mitigate the effects of the bedroom tax on people across Scotland.
“We are more than willing to put in the extra £15million, which would increase the amount of help available to a total of £50million.
“If Westminster lifts the legal cap – which they can easily do – we will be able to help the 76,000 people in Scotland who are suffering from this cut.
“In order to make this legally possible, Westminster needs to lift the cap for Scotland and UK ministers should act now.” She said.
Scottish Labour have welcomed the move and MP Ian Gray has confirmed his party will vote for the SNP budget, saying: “If these measures are confirmed in Parliament on Wednesday we will on balance be able to support the Scottish Government’s budget for next year.”