Comment: Benefit changes will hit housing associations

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ONE of the flaws of the so-called bedroom tax is that, contrary to the policy’s assumptions, there are simply not enough suitable properties to move “under-occupying” tenants to.

My organisation, the Port of Leith Housing Association (PoLHA), for example has only managed to move a small number of people and those most affected by the bedroom tax must wait an agonisingly long time for suitable properties to become available.

It is not only PoLHA facing difficulty; housing associations (HAs) across Scotland face the same problem, laying bare the fact that there is an acute shortage of social housing in this country.

Though HAs are crucial suppliers of social housing, the sector is struggling to build adequate numbers of new units as the public subsidy they currently receive from the Scottish Government is simply not adequate to maintain a strong social housing build programme.

Two years ago, the level of subsidy provided by the Scottish Government to social landlords was cut to £40,000 per unit. This is less than the £65,000 (or £70,000 for rural areas) per-unit subsidy enjoyed by HAs previously. Such a drop in funding has led to a shift in emphasis in terms of the types of housing tenures built by HAs; namely, away from units for social rent and towards more economical tenures.

As changes to the UK’s benefits system continue to take effect, the financial pressure facing HAs will only increase as tenants will increasingly struggle to pay their rent. We are projecting a significant rise in arrears that will have a great impact on PoLHA’s business model, like those of other HAs across the country.

It is, therefore, crucial that if we are to have a chance of meeting Scotland’s social housing challenges, that the Scottish Government boost the subsidy given to HAs and until such time as any alternative new sustainable funding models are found to work for the long term. It is imperative that HAs are given greater financial flexibility to be able to continue to meet the housing needs of Scots up and down the country.

• Keith Anderson is the chief executive of the Port of Leith Housing Association