Friday, 20 September 2013

Financial cost of the Bedroom Tax in North Ayrshire

Figures secured under Freedom of Information legislation reveal North Ayrshire Council has paid-out £285,312 in Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) since the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government introduced the controversial Bedroom Tax in April.

DHPs can be made to tenants facing hardship as a result of their Housing Benefit being cut because the Westminster Government says they have more bedrooms in their home than they need.  Under the legislation described by UK Ministers as “ending the spare room subsidy”, tenants have their benefit cut by 14% if they have one room more in their home than the government says they need: two ‘extra’ rooms results in a cut of 25%.

Two-weeks ago the3towns revealed there are 1,765 tenants of North Ayrshire Council who are deemed by the UK Government to be ‘under occupying’ their homes.  At the same time, the local authority has just 8 one-bedroom properties available for allocation.  In addition, there are already 3,645 applicants on the Housing Waiting List for one-bedroom properties.  With a combined total of 5,410 applicants but just 8 available properties, the figures show there are 675 people chasing every one-bedroom house in North Ayrshire.

Existing Council tenants who have their Housing Benefit cut due to the Bedroom Tax are expected to make-up the shortfall in rent from any other benefit they receive, such as Jobseekers Allowance.  However, very few, if any, tenants in that position can afford to make such payments.  In those circumstances, tenants can apply to the Council for a Discretionary Housing Payment to avoid accruing rent arrears.

the3towns can reveal that between April and August of this year, North Ayrshire Council received 1,765 applications for DHPs – the same number as the local authority has tenants affected by the Bedroom Tax.  However, only 1,070 of those applications were accepted and received payments.  Figures show 486 were rejected, with 209 applicants apparently still to receive a decision.

When the Bedroom Tax was introduced on April 1, the UK Department for Work and Pensions made available to North Ayrshire Council £273,421 to cover DHP applications for the year to March 2014.  However, in just five-months the local authority has had to pay-out £285,312 to tenants in financial difficulty.  The Council put £394,611 of its own money into the Discretionary Housing Payment fund, which gave a total of £668,032.  The Freedom of Information figures show £383,520 remains available to cover the seven-months remaining of the current financial year.

North Ayrshire Council’s SNP administration has stated the local authority will not evict anyone who gets into rent arrears as a result of the Bedroom Tax, provided tenants work with housing officials to address the problems they face.

Last week a United Nations Special Rapporteur condemned the Tory-Lib Dem Bedroom Tax as a breach of human rights – stating she found its impact “shocking” and called for it to be abolished.  Under the current devolved settlement, Welfare is reserved to the UK Parliament, which means the Scottish Parliament is unable to abolish the Bedroom Tax while Scotland remains part of the British Union.

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