Limited number of smaller homes leaves Bedroom Tax victims in catch-22 situation

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  By Martin Kelly

Social housing tenants in Scotland who will be hit by the so called bedroom tax will be unable to escape a cut to their benefits, new figures have shown.

The tax will penalise those deemed to have a spare bedroom in their property, however newly released figures have shown a massive gap in the number of small social housing currently available compared to the number of tenants actually needing one bedroom homes.

According to figures produced by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), 60% of social housing residents in Scotland ‘need’ one bedroom homes, but currently only 26% of residents occupy such properties.

The figures have revealed a massive gap between the type of social housing that actually exists in Scotland and the kind of properties that Westminster thinks the majority of people receiving housing benefit should be living in.

With council waiting lists meaning there are few alternative smaller properties to move into, Westminster’s bedroom tax will be an unavoidable strain on the household budgets of the estimated 94,000 affected people in Scotland from April this year.

Problems in the supply of smaller social housing are also exacerbated by the absence of council house construction that took place following the introduction of the right to buy.

Scottish Labour has insisted that some of the blame lies with the Scottish government which it claims should be building more one bedroom houses.  However the SNP has pointed out that during Labour’s last term in office, only six council homes were built in the whole of Scotland.

The SNP Government ended the right to buy for new council tenants, sparking a new wave of council home construction in Scotland.

Meanwhile, the Labour party’s spokesman at Westminster has agreed with the policy in principle, insisting only people who refuse to downsize should be hit.

Speaking yesterday on Radio 4, Labour’s Shadow Minister Stephen Timms said: “We’ve argued for the last two years that it would be fine to apply the penalty where people have refused to take smaller accommodation, but to penalise people when there’s nowhere smaller to move to is perverse.”

Commenting, SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing who sits on the Welfare Reform Committee said:

“The mismatch between the reality of social housing in Scotland and what Westminster wants to do shows just how out of touch with reality the bedroom tax truly is.

“With so many people in Scotland set to be caught up by Westminster’s bedroom tax, where exactly do the Tories expect people to go if they are to avoid being hit by this punitive measure?

“The DWP’s own system shows that there is a massive mismatch between the type of social housing that exists and what they think people need, so why on earth do the Tories think it is acceptable to penalise people for something they have little to no control over?

“The Tories seem to want to tackle a housing supply problem they ultimately created by causing a new, potentially even more devastating housing problem. To penalise people people for something they have little to no control over?”

The new legislation, described by PM David Cameron as a benefit and “not a tax”, will see those tenants losing up to £20 per-week in benefits if they fall into the spare-bedroom category.

Amongst those hit will be foster carers where children in their care are not deemed to be living in the property.  Others who could lose benefits are the sick and disabled who are looked after by carers who sometimes stay overnight in the spare room – these rooms will still be deemed unoccupied.

All benefit claimants who are deemed to have at least one spare bedroom will be affected.  This includes:

  • Separated parents who share the care of their children and who may have been allocated an extra bedroom to reflect this.  Benefit rules mean that there must be a designated ‘main carer’ for children (who receives the extra benefit)
  • Couples who use their ‘spare’ bedroom when recovering from an illness or operation
  • Foster carers because foster children are not counted as part of the household for benefit purposes
  • Parents whose children visit but are not part of the household
  • Families with disabled children
  • Disabled people including people living in adapted or specially designed properties

The Scottish government estimates that the tax will see a total loss to the Scottish economy of between £60 million and £65 million.

Ms Ewing added: “People in Scotland should not be paying the price for Westminster’s detachment from reality and their failure with this move only shows why decisions on taxes and welfare should be made in Scotland by people who understand the impact such a policy will have.

“Only a Yes vote in next year’s referendum will secure that right for Scotland and ensure that people here are not left at the mercy of a Westminster Government that has again shown itself to be wildly out of touch with reality.”

The SNP has already pledged to scrap the tax if Scots vote yes in the independence referendum in 2014.

However, Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie attacked the SNP plans saying: “It looks like the SNP are prepared to promise anything and everything to win the referendum, but people will expect to see the cost of the SNP promises.

“Making promises without prices attached is easy but showing they are affordable is a lot more difficult.

“The reality is independence will make it a whole lot harder to deliver on what the SNP promise.”

MEANWHILE, a campaign against the tax which is to hold a demonstration in Glasgow and Edinburgh has received the support of an SNP MEP.

Ian Hudghton MEP told the campaign group, No2BedroomTax:

“I agree with you on the subject of the Bedroom Tax.  The plans take no account of the availability of smaller properties in the area, nor of the effect of moving away from family, carers, schools and other local ties.”

The campaign will see a Glasgow demonstration take place on Saturday 30th March – leaving George Square at midday heading to Glasgow Green.

A separate march taking place in Edinburgh the same day will leave St Andrews Square at 1pm and head to Holyrood.