COUNCIL tenants in the Scottish capital are to be denied emergency hardship payments if they are deemed to spend too much on luxuries such as cigarettes, alcohol and satellite television.
Edinburgh City Council has revealed that when choosing who is given a discretionary housing payment to cope with the benefit shortfall created by the bedroom tax, it asks applicants to detail their expenditure for non-essentials including alcohol and tobacco.
Staff then take account of this when deciding if the applicant is deserving of the payments.
It is believed to be the first time a local authority in the UK has openly admitted that it decides who gets discretionary housing payments (DHPs) on the basis of what tenants say they are spending their money on.
Councils across the country have seen a huge rise in demand for the hardship payments because of the bedroom tax.
Tenants with a spare room lose 14 per cent of their benefit payments and those with two spare rooms lose 25 per cent.
Cammy Day, the city’s deputy health and housing leader, told Inside Housing magazine that the policy was necessary to prevent the Labour and Scottish National Party-run council’s dwindling DHP allocation from running out.
“As a result of a policy imposed by the Conservative Party we are having to do this, otherwise our entire DHP allocation would have been spent in the first three months [of the financial year],” he said.
The Labour councillor said he was “not comfortable” with the policy. “It is a horrible position to be in, having to make a judgment on people’s lifestyle choices.”
Edinburgh council received 2,216 applications for discretionary payments in the first two months of the bedroom tax – up from just 724 in the same period in 2012. It has already committed nearly £332,000 of its £1.43 million allocation for 2013-14.
On the application form for DHP assessment, tenants have to fill in a form declaring all their outgoings and income.
Most local authorities include columns on this for satellite television fees, mobile phone contracts and a general “entertainment” column for other items considered non-essential, however, Edinburgh has a specific column for spending on “alcohol/cigarettes”.
A council spokesman told The Scotsman that officials have not adopted the measure as a “blanket policy”, but it “was a factor” when it came to deciding if tenants were deserving of DHP.
Betty Stevenson, convener at Edinburgh Tenants Federation, said that TV was not necessarily a luxury. “We’re worried that for some people that’s the only entertainment they’ve got.”