Friday, 17 January 2014

Council rejects 'flawed' Labour Bedroom Tax move

An attempt by Labour councillors to amend North Ayrshire Council’s response to a proposed Labour Bill on Bedroom Tax evictions was thrown-out last week by the local authority’s Scrutiny Committee.

Labour Group Leader Peter McNamara addressed the Committee, asking that the SNP Cabinet’s response to the Labour Bill should be changed from noting its contents and setting-out the Council’s position on dealing with the Bedroom Tax.  Cllr McNamara and his party colleagues wanted North Ayrshire to support the Bill, proposed in the Scottish Parliament by Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, including a move to commit local authorities and housing associations to a blanket ‘no evictions’ policy in relation to the Bedroom Tax.

However, SNP councillors responded to Cllr McNamara by pointing-out that the Bedroom Tax had been introduced by the Labour Party, and that the Bill proposed by Jackie Baillie would simply result in the SNP Scottish Government having to find money to subsidise the UK legislation by cutting other areas of public sector provision in Scotland.  Ms Baillie’s Bill would leave the Bedroom Tax in place.

In addition, Cllr McNamara was reminded that North Ayrshire Council’s SNP administration had already put in place a ‘no evictions’ policy for tenants who find themselves in rent arrears as a result of the Bedroom Tax, provided they work with Housing officials to address their situation.

Called the ‘spare room subsidy’ by UK Tory-Lib Dem Ministers, the Bedroom Tax imposes cuts to Housing Benefit for any tenant who is deemed to have more rooms in their home than they need.  One ‘extra’ bedroom results in a 14% cut to benefit, while two ‘additional’ rooms produces a 25% reduction.  The Bedroom Tax was introduced by the Labour Party while in power at Westminster and initially applied to tenants renting in the private sector.  The Tory-Lib Dem Government elected in 2010 extended the sanction to tenants of councils and housing associations.

In a report previously submitted to the SNP Cabinet, Council officers pointed-out that the Labour Bill proposed by Jackie Bailie would “create a two-tier system where some tenants can be evicted for standard rent arrears while tenants affected by the ‘Bedroom Tax’ cannot be evicted.”

The officers’ report also revealed the Bedroom Tax is “having a detrimental impact on the Council's rent income”.  As of October 2013, a total of 2,030 working-age Council tenants were affected by the Bedroom Tax, with 1,277 already having fallen into arrears.  Tenants having their Housing Benefit cut as a result of the Bedroom Tax had produced a shortfall in rental income to North Ayrshire Council of £112,853.

Speaking on behalf of the Council’s SNP Group, Cllr Anthea Dickson, Cabinet member for Health & Social Care, told the3towns, “Across North Ayrshire and Scotland, people want to right the wrongs of the Labour-Tory Bedroom Tax, but this latest Labour move was so flawed and inadequate it barely deserved serious consideration.

“Remember, it was the Labour Party that introduced the Bedroom Tax for private rented accommodation in April 2008.  Labour opened the door for the Tories to extend it to council and housing association tenants in a horrific piece of Westminster legislation.”

Cllr Dickson added, “Labour say they want to help housing association tenants, but the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations opposes the Labour proposal, and the Chartered Institute of Housing has told a Scottish Parliament committee that the Labour proposal would do more harm than good.”

The councillor for Beith & Kilbrinie said, “The SNP has consistently highlighted the hardship caused by Westminster’s welfare cuts and both the Scottish Government and SNP-led councils have committed huge resources and funding to support tenants adversely affected.

“The Bedroom Tax must be abolished.  Westminster clearly has no appetite to do this, with Labour MPs failing to turn up in sufficient numbers to vote it down.  So, there is but one way to end the Bedroom Tax and that is through a ‘YES’ vote in the referendum, which will result in an independent Scottish Parliament having full powers over the welfare system.”

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