First Minister Alex Salmond has been urged to back proposed laws aimed at protecting victims of the so-called bedroom tax.
The legislation, lodged at the Scottish Parliament by Labour yesterday, would ensure anyone who fell into arrears as a result of the charge would not be evicted from their home.
But Mr Salmond insisted SNP councils around Scotland had adopted this approach months ago and accused Labour of failing to endorse it.
The bedroom tax – or under-occupancy charge – is at the heart of UK government’s welfare reforms and will see social tenants with an unoccupied room face the prospect of moving to a smaller home or having their housing benefit cut. About 82,500 Scots will be affected.
The Labour bill has been backed by Govan Law Centre, the Church of Scotland, the STUC and the Poverty Alliance, and Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont called on Mr Salmond to back the measures.
“Instead of cutting help for victims of the bedroom tax, will the First Minister pledge to sign this bill and do the right thing by Scotland, rather than the right thing by the SNP,” she asked during First Minister’s Questions.
Mr Salmond said it was six months since SNP councils across the country moved to a “no-evictions” policy on the basis of the bedroom tax, while similar policies had been rejected by Labour-led councils in Aberdeen and Falkirk.
“The Labour Party refused this spring to endorse the no-evictions policy which was being carried out by SNP councils up and down the country,” he said.
Labour MSP Jackie Baillie who lodged the proposal for a Protection from Eviction (Bedroom Tax) (Scotland) Bill at Holyrood said the charge was “unfair and unworkable”. She went on: “Devolution means we can do things differently in Scotland and we must take action.”
Labour is demanding the Scottish Government provide £50 million of funding to fully mitigate the impacts of the change, brought in by Westminster earlier this year.
The Scottish Government’s budget this year includes £20m to help those struggling the most as a result of the tax, with the money going to councils to increase discretionary housing payments.
Mr Salmond insisted the funding being provided was “the limit we have under our powers at the present moment”.
Labour leader Ed Miliband pledged this week that the bedroom tax would be scrapped if the party wins the next general election.