Calls are growing for social housing tenants in Scotland to be given greater protection against the effects of the “bedroom tax” after Edinburgh city council pledged not to evict people driven into arrears by the change.
The capital’s coalition council has proposed that social housing tenants who face losing a chunk of their housing benefit because of the new measure should not be evicted as a result.
Under the “bedroom tax”, which came into force on Monday, social housing tenants of working age deemed to have a spare room will lose 14 per cent of their housing benefit, rising to 25 per cent if there are two or more spare rooms.
Around 105,000 households in Scotland – a fifth of the social-rented sector – will lose an average of £14 a week.
The Labour-SNP coalition in Edinburgh said the new rules failed to take into account an “acute shortage” of one-bedroom homes that would allow social tenants to downsize.
Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, welcomed the move. “Penalising people for having an extra room assumes there is a ready supply of smaller or shared properties for them to move to,” he said. “This is simply not the case in Edinburgh or elsewhere. Sadly it seems inevitable that we’ll see an increase in homelessness as a result.”
The Edinburgh proposal is expected to be ratified later this month. Pressure is now growing on other councils to follow suit. Brown said: “We would hope Edinburgh’s proposed approach would be considered as one option that may prove the best deal for local taxpayers and the fairest for those left to pick up the pieces of these cruel cuts.”
He called on the Scottish Government to lead the way by guaranteeing that no tenant would be evicted for bedroom tax arrears and to provide funds to protect social landlords from bankruptcy.
The Edinburgh coalition warned the “bedroom tax” could have an adverse impact on council and housing association landlords’ income and their investment in improvements and new homes.
“It is still not too late for the Scottish Government to act,” said Brown. “It could ensure that across the whole of Scotland people are not evicted due to arrears caused by the ‘bedroom tax’ and that social landlords are protected by underwriting the potential shortfalls in rent.”
The “bedroom tax” could cost taxpayers more than it saves if councils are forced to rehouse people in the more expensive private rented sector, he added.
The nine SNP-led local authorities in Scotland have already adopted a “no evictions for bedroom tax” policy, including Dundee city council, the only council in which the SNP has a majority. However, the Dundee stance was thrown into doubt last week when it said the protection would be removed where tenants turn down offers of alternative housing.
“The situation hasn’t been helped by the confusion caused following unilateral announcements of protection by a few local authorities,” said Brown. “This has left most tenants and social landlords across Scotland in the dark and wondering what’s going to happen to them.”
Landlords and local authorities across the country will have to make their own decisions as to how they deal with tenants who are now unable to cover their rent, said Citizens Advice Scotland.
“But we have no doubt that there will be many people who are in that position,” added Keith Dryburgh, policy officer for the charity.