Potential breakthrough on Bedroom Tax

Banish the Bedroom Tax MonsterThe Scottish Government has announced its intention to include additional money in this week’s budget to cover the full cost of the bedroom tax.

The decision follows more than a year of campaigning by Scottish Labour and others to call for sufficient resources to be made available to tackle the tax which cuts housing benefit to those deemed to be under-occupying their home.

Across the country 80,000 households have been affected by the bedroom tax, over 10,000 of which are in the Lothians.  This announcement is a victory for those households, for those who have campaigned against the tax and for common sense.

The Scottish Government has previously taken the view that its ability to act on the bedroom tax was hampered by rules on Discretionary Housing Payments.  Under the rules, councils across the country are allowed to top-up the DHP fund by up to 150% to help tenants affected by the bedroom tax.

The Scottish Government had allocated £20m for this year and next to allow councils to top-up their funds but said this was all that could be done.  As part of today’s announcement, the Scottish Government has written to the Department of Work and Pensions to ask for this cap to be lifted.  While I support this move, it is clear that agreement from the DWP is not a prerequisite for action.

Even if permission to raise the cap on DHP top-ups is refused, Renfrewshire Council has led the way by demonstrating a legal means of mitigating the effects of the policy to support households.  Its approach, which has been rubber-stamped by Audit Scotland, allows the Council to use a portion of its housing account to write off bedroom tax related rent arrears.  I will be continuing to press the Scottish Government to follow this route if it is unsuccessful in its appeal to the DWP.

If the support announced today is fully included in this week’s budget, Scottish Labour has said it will support the Government.  I am pleased that Ministers have engaged with opposition members to get to this point and hope now that a solution to the bedroom tax in Scotland is close.