Last week I meet with the Edinburgh Tenants Federation to discuss welfare reform and the bedroom tax. The approach taken by Edinburgh Council to attempt to support tenants and ensure that they have up to date advice was welcomed. The effort taken by Council staff to visit tenants personally was praised as it was seen as an effective way to communicate directly with people. The decision by the council not to evict tenants experiencing debt as a result of the bedroom tax, where they have been working with the council, was also seen as positive progress.
One of the main points which we discussed was the fact that Scotland does not have enough affordable and council housing. The resulting demand can be seen in applications for housing where for council houses which become available, approximately 150 bids are submitted. The City council estimates that it currently needs to deliver 16,000 affordable homes over the next 10 years. Given the financial straight jacket the Scottish Government has imposed on local government, the reduction in funding support for housing associations and the impact on both Council and housing association finance by the bedroom tax and other welfare reform policies it’s hard to see how thesemuch needed new homes will be built.
The ETF are keen to get accurate information out to tenants about the importance of seeking help. Many people put off dealing with difficult issues, and many will find it hard to cope with the raft of financial changes coming their way. It is not only the bedroom tax that we need to worry about, there is the introcuction of universal credit, the requirement to apply online, direct payments in arrears and the challenge of keeping people up to date with exemptions which have been granted following lobbying of the UK Government.
Since meeting with the ETF I’ve written to the Scottish Housing Regulator because I am concerned that the impact on current housing association tenants and the ability of housing associations to plan new housing will get tougher as time goes on.