Friday, 6 September 2013

Shocking reality of Bedroom Tax in North Ayrshire

Figures secured under Freedom of Information legislation reveal the grim reality for North Ayrshire residents affected by the Bedroom Tax.

Officially referred to in welfare reforms as applying to tenants who ‘under occupy’ their homes, the Bedroom Tax sees Housing Benefit cut by 14% for anyone who has one room in their home more than the UK Tory-Lib Dem Government says they need. In situations where a home has two rooms more than UK ministers deem necessary, benefit is slashed by 25%. The changes have meant affected tenants are faced with increased rent charges because their benefit has been cut, with most unable to pay the difference from limited fixed-incomes. Councils across the country have reported that rent arrears have soared since the introduction of the Bedroom Tax. Potentially, tenants can be evicted and lose their homes if they fall into arrears with rent payments.

the3towns can now reveal that, as of last week, 1,765 tenants of North Ayrshire Council were deemed by the UK Government to be ‘under occupying’ their homes and have had their Housing Benefit cut. Unable to pay increased rent charges resulting from the reduction in benefit, the only option open to tenants is to ‘down-size’ to a one-bedroom property. However, the data released under Freedom of Information show that last week North Ayrshire Council had just 8 one-bedroom properties available for allocation.

Also revealed in the FoI figures is that the Council already has 3,645 applicants on the Housing Waiting List who have requested one-bedroom properties.

In total, therefore, there are currently 5,410 applicants for a one-bedroom property in North Ayrshire, but the local Council has available just 8 such homes. Those figures equate to 675 applicants for every one-bedroom house.

The reality of such a situation is that hundreds of local people are trapped in homes the Tory-Lib Dem Government in London says are too big for them, which results in Housing Benefit being cut. That, in turn, leads to tenants being unable to pay their rent and running up arrears, which could, ultimately, lead to eviction. Cuts to Housing Benefit because of the Bedroom Tax also results in reduced income for local authorities.

Ardrossan SNP councillor Tony Gurney told the3towns, “In North Ayrshire we're trying to mitigate against the effects of this egregious legislation by not evicting those who engage positively with the Council, as well as exploring the re-categorisation of houses to ensure tenants do not fall foul of the wording contained in the law. There is, however, only so much we can do. Every pound we spend protecting tenants is a pound less to spend on the other services we provide and which are needed by local residents.”

Cllr Gurney pointed out that the SNP administration of North Ayrshire Council is constrained by spending cuts imposed by the UK Government in London, adding that all three of the main British political parties had backed the Bedroom Tax. “It is a Tory-Lib Dem Government that is gleefully implementing the Bedroom Tax,” said Cllr Gurney, “but the policy was first introduced by Labour in 2007 as part of the Welfare Reform Act, the same legislation that created Work Capability Assessments, which attempt to force disabled and ill people back into work.

“Anyone who tells you that this wouldn't happen under Labour is wrong. It is Labour’s policy. Anyone who tells you this would be reversed under Labour is wrong. They refuse to commit to repealing their law. And anyone who tells you that we should vote for Labour at Westminster to protect the interests of working people is wrong. Labour stopped caring a long, long time ago.”

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