The City of Edinburgh Council has provided its latest update on the impact of welfare reform in the city.
One of the key issues highlighted by the report is Bedroom Tax related rent arrears. The latest figures for the Council show that of the 3,245 tenants affected by the change to housing benefit, 2,249 (69%) are in rent arrears.
This is a shocking figure that points to the real difficulties that many households are facing as a result of welfare reform. The impact of this situation can only be damaging to these individuals resulting in stress and ill-health.
At the same time, the situation has a knock on effect for the council which relies on income from social housing to fund new developments and keep existing homes up to scratch. By the end of November, the Council was reporting a gap of over £750,000 between expected rental income and what was actually collected since April.
To assist households, the Council is administering a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) scheme which offers support to individuals to meet housing costs. So far, almost 4,500 claims have been considered with the majority receiving at least some level of support. I am pleased that the Council has now written to all those households affected by the bedroom tax but who have not yet applied for DHP to make them aware of the scheme and encouraging them to apply. You can find out more about the Council’s DHP policy here and download an application form here.
I recently received an update from Citizens Advice Scotland on the work with clients affected by the bedroom tax.
The analysis looked at the impact over the first six months of the policy. Over that period, over 1,600 Scots sought advice from their local CAB office. As a result, the number of cases relating to social housing and rent arrears increased by 41%.
A breakdown of the clients approaching the CAB gives some insight into the types of people affected by the bedroom tax. Two thirds of those contacting the CAB are disabled while one in ten are caring for a disabled person. Only 13% of the 1,600 clients were in employment when they sought help.
In its Voices from the Frontline report, Citizens Advice Scotland makes a number of recommendations based on feedback from their work. They are calling for exemptions for households where a disabled person has been assessed as needing their own bed and for households where children have been allocated a separate room due to a health condition. They are also calling on all social landlords to provide support to help those who wish to downsize to do so.
The Scottish Government has committed £20m this year and the same figure next year to allow councils to top-up their discretionary housing payment funds. However, evidence suggests that the annual gap being faced by local authorities and housing providers is nearer £50m and I am continuing to work with Labour colleagues and activists to lobby the Scottish Government to make sufficient resources available in next year’s Scottish budget.
Meanwhile, I am continuing to support a Member’s Bill from my colleague Jackie Baillie to deliver consistent protection for tenants across the country from eviction due to bedroom tax rent arrears.