Social Housing tenants living in Scotland need ‘clear advice’ on whether or not they need to pay the controversial ‘bedroom tax’, the Chartered Institute of Housing (Scotland) say.
The call comes after Housing and Welfare minister Margaret Burgess wrote to local authorities to inform them that the Scottish Government is increasing the amount of money available for Discretionary Housing Payment’s (DHP’s) by £35 million, to an estimated £50 million in total.
Under changes to Housing Benefit introduced by the coalition government in April 2013, Social Housing tenants occupying homes deemed to be larger than their requirements are expected to contribute toward the cost of their rent.
The exact amount varies and is dependent upon how many spare bedrooms a Housing Benefit claimant has in their social home: 14 per cent cut in Housing Benefit for one spare bedroom or 25 per cent for two or more. 14 per cent is believed to be the national average.
David Bookbinder, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at CIH Scotland, said:
“Rightly, the Scottish Government’s commitment to cover the cost of the bedroom tax this financial year has been widely welcomed. The missing bit of the jigsaw is clear advice to both tenants and landlords about what action needs to be taken now that the new financial year is here. We know that doing nothing isn’t an option, and our understanding from officials is that landlords should seek to support tenants to apply for a DHP.
“Whilst no-one is saying it as such, the implicit advice to landlords is not to let anyone actually pay their bedroom tax liability this year even where they are willing and able to. This would seem to suggest that a very proactive approach is needed from landlords, not only to help people apply for a DHP but also to reassure tenants who may be anxious about getting into arrears.
“We have to hope that the vast majority of DHP applications will be successful and will cover the full year’s liability. What is currently less clear is the scale of outstanding arrears from the previous year 2013/14.
“It’s also important to bear in mind that whilst the Minister’s letter refers to the £50m being sufficient to cover the full cost of the bedroom tax in 2014/15, DHPs have always been intended for wider purposes, including helping tenants badly affected by cuts to Local Housing Allowance in the private rented sector.
“We recognise that Ministers are still awaiting a response from the UK Government, but in the meantime clear advice to landlords and tenants on what to do right now would be helpful to the sector.”
According to the coalition government in Westminster, one of the principal reasons behind the ‘bedroom tax’ is to ‘encourage’ smaller households living in larger social homes to downsize to a smaller property, freeing it up for a larger family who may have been on waiting lists for several months or even years.
However, recent research by the BBC found that only 6 per cent of families affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ had downsized into a smaller property. Both critics of the policy and local councils continue to argue that there are simply not enough one and two bedroom social homes available for households to downsize into. The end result is that some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society (included disabled people) are left with no option other than to pay up or risk losing their home and becoming homeless.
DHP’s are administered by local authorities to provide emergency financial support for Housing Benefit claimants living in Social Housing, who are struggling to cover the full cost of the rent on their home as a result of being affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ – also known as the ‘under-occupation penalty’ or ‘spare room subsidy’. However, DHP’s can be time-limited and not necessarily available for all those who make a claim.
The amount of funding available to councils for DHP’s is limited and not ring-fenced, although councils can apply to the government for a ‘top up’. It is also true that some councils have failed to utilise the full amount of funding they have received for DHP’s from central government and others have used the funding to offset cuts made to other areas of local authority spending.