Friday, 3 January 2014

Burgess seeks UK talks over Bedroom Tax

Local MSP Margaret Burgess has revealed that the UK Government’s Bedroom Tax and benefit sanctions are disproportionately affecting Scotland’s most vulnerable citizens.

In her capacity as the Scottish Government Minister for Housing and Welfare, Mrs Burgess has written to Lord Freud, the UK Minister for Welfare Reform, requesting a meeting to discuss her concerns.  The Tory peer is the person responsible for overseeing the introduction of the Bedroom Tax and a sanctions regime that has resulted in people losing benefit for trivial breaches of Jobseeker agreements.

The Bedroom Tax punishes public sector tenants in receipt of benefit if they have more rooms in their rented home than the UK Government says they need.  One ‘additional’ bedroom results in Housing Benefit being cut by 14%, while two ‘extra’ rooms bring a 25% reduction.  Some of those worst affected by the Bedroom Tax include disabled people whose ‘extra’ bedroom is required to accommodate health-related equipment, and elderly tenants whose family have grown-up and moved out.  Local authorities across the country report they are unable to offer smaller properties in most cases where a rented home, deemed by the UK Government to be ‘too large’, has resulted in Housing Benefit being reduced.

To ease the effects of UK welfare reforms, the SNP Scottish Government has provided councils with additional funding to increase the amount available for Discretionary Housing Payments, which can be made to tenants who find themselves in financial difficulty.  SNP-run local authorities, such as North Ayrshire Council, have also stated they will not evict tenants who are plunged into rent arrears through their benefit being slashed because of the Bedroom Tax.

Despite claims by the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government that introduction of the Bedroom Tax and other benefit sanctions would save money, the Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities – the umbrella body that oversees the work of Scotland’s 32 councils – has revealed figures showing it is costing £60m a year more to administer the system, which is £10m more than the claimed savings listed by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Margaret Burgess told the3towns, “The apparent savings to the Department for Work and Pensions are simply because the costs are being pushed onto other stakeholders, such as local councils.

“There was no justification in introducing the Bedroom Tax to reduce expenditure on Housing Benefit in the Scottish social rented sector, especially when you see the financial and social costs borne by some of our most vulnerable households.  It’s also clear to see there is no legitimate economic and social case for its imposition.”

The MSP for the local seat of Cunninghame South, which includes Stevenston, said, “Councils, Citizens Advice Bureaux and other advisory groups are all reporting an increase in callers who have seen their benefits reduced or withdrawn.  Foodbanks in Scotland have named benefit delays and changes, including sanctions, as major factors in the increasing demand for their services.

“This current sanctions regime is unnecessarily harsh.  I do not believe the UK Government has fully considered the implications of such punitive actions against the most vulnerable.”

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