By Anne-Marie O’Donnell
MPs have rejected a last ditch motion to stop the UK government from closing a loophole in Bedroom Tax legislation which exempted thousands of people from being hit with the policy.
The Labour motion in the House of Commons was defeated by 304 votes to253, meaning that up to 40,000 people who have been wrongly identified as being liable to pay the Bedroom Tax will now be included under the legislation’s criteria.
The loophole emerged last month when the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) admitted that a “technical error” meant tenants who had claimed housing benefit for the same property since 1 January 1996 were not eligible to pay the Bedroom Tax – despite them already being billed. Days after the news emerged, welfare reform minister Lord Freud said the loophole would be officially closed in March, but it’s understood to be unlikely that those it did not legally affect will be able to reclaim any lost monies.
In a last minute effort to stop the change to the legislation, Labour MP for Leeds West Rachel Reeves moved the motion in the House of Commons and said the tax had been a “fiasco” from the beginning. Dr Eilidh Whiteford, Banff and Buchan SNP MP, added that the policy was a “cash grab” and in Scotland it is predominantly affecting disabled people.
“In Scotland there has been a broad political consensus that the Bedroom Tax is a profoundly unfair and ill-conceived policy that is harmful to disadvantaged tenants, damaging to councils and local housing associations, undermines social cohesion in our communities and harms the social fabric as a whole,” said Dr Whiteford.
“However, this is a policy area reserved to Westminster – and so we have been stuck with Ministers we didn’t elect imposing a policy we didn’t vote for. Nevertheless, Scottish Local Authorities, the Scottish Government, our housing associations and advice bureaux have had to mop up the mess over the last ten months.”
However, South Northamptonshire Conservative MP Andrea Leadsom insisted that previous welfare policies were a burden on taxpayers.
“I despair of opposition members who first insist on calling the spare room subsidy a tax, and secondly insist that it is utterly unfair to everyone,” she said. “What they fail to accept is that the previous arrangements were totally unfair to taxpayers and to those in the private rented sector.”
The last ditch motion from Labour to prevent the loophole from closing was in stark contrast to an incident in November last year when dozens of Labour MPs failed to turn up to a crucial House of Commons vote against the Bedroom Tax – including MPs for Scotland Anas Sarwar, Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander.
The SNP last year claimed the policy was becoming a test of Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont’s leadership because Labour-run councils were failing to guarantee protection for tenants from possible eviction.
Pressure is mounting on Ms Lamont after claiming on a Scottish independence referendum debate just hours ahead of the latest vote that people are not “genetically programmed in Scotland to make political decisions” when questioned about the Bedroom Tax.