Bedroom tax sparks housing shortage fear

Protest organiser Willie Black leads the anti'bedroom tax march in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Protest organiser Willie Black leads the anti'bedroom tax march in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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COUNCILS in Scotland do not have enough alternative accommodation to deal with the potential effects of the bedroom tax, new figures reveal today.

Thousands of people in Scotland will have to move to smaller homes if they want to avoid the impact of the tax, introduced today, which will see the benefits of those with spare rooms cut.

It is estimated that more than 100,000 households will be affected. Labour insisted last night that the Scottish Government could limit the impact by using their block grant to prevent housing benefit being cut.

But the SNP said Labour-run councils should join the Nationalists in pledging not to evict tenants who fail to pay their rent as a result of the change.

Under the shake-up, part of a raft of welfare changes, people in social housing with one spare bedrooom will see their housing benefit cut by 14 per cent. Those with two spare rooms or more will see it cut by 25 per cent.

The average household affected will lose £624 a year.

The SNP has put the bedroom tax at the heart of its claims that an independent Scotland would create a fairer welfare system.

But last night Downing Street challenged the Scottish Government to fund the difference in housing benefits from the block grant “if they disagree”.

A source said the SNP administration must “show where the money would be cut from”.

The Church of Scotland joined other churches and charities across the UK yesterday to condemn the welfare squeeze after thousands took to protest against the cut.

Both main parties in Holyrood are publicly opposed to the decision to slash housing support.

From the 105,000 households hit by the cut in Scotland, it is estimated by Labour that 78,000 tenants will be expected to move into one-bedroom accommodation. However, only 20,000 single-bed social housing properties are let each year.

The party says that, across the UK, there is no alternative local accommodation for 96 per cent of those who will be hit by the so-called “bedroom tax”.

Freedom of information requests show how dramatic the problem is in individual areas in Scotland.

In South Lanarkshire, 5,461 households are affected, but just 245 one- and two-bedroom properties are unoccupied.

In East Ayrshire, there are 3,100 households affected, but just 189 properties available. In Fife, the ratio is 526 to 70, and in Highland, it is 2,000 to 164.

In North Ayrshire, 2,645 are expected to be hit with, just 30 of those properties on offer. In Perth and Kinross, the ratio is 759 to 79, in Shetland it is 175 to 15 and in Stirling 879 to 21.

The change to housing benefit is being introduced to end the subsidy of extra rooms in council or housing association properties which does not exist for people on benefits in private properties.

UK ministers claim the change will save money and allow families on the waiting list to move out of overcrowded accommodation into larger homes, which are freed up by the effect of the new legislation.

Already, the government has been forced to introduce exemptions for soldiers, some disabled people and those on remand in prison. An £84 million fund has been set up to help pay rent for disabled people who need extra support, of which £10m will come to Scotland.

Last night, a Downing Street source said the housing budget was devolved.

He added: “The SNP could show that they are a party of government … and use their powers to mitigate the changes. However, they need to explain what other budgets would be cut and why they are keeping families who need the larger accommodation in overcrowded conditions.”

It is estimated the cut in housing support will remove £55m from the Scottish economy, mainly money from the Treasury to the Scottish Government.

After thousands of people took to the streets over the weekend to voice their opposition to the bedroom tax, Scottish Labour called for a meeting with SNP ministers to review its budget and find money to fund exemptions for the most vulnerable.

But the SNP called on Labour, which runs or is involved in running half of Scotland’s 32 councils, to pledge to not evict anybody on the basis of money they have lost from the bedroom tax.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland accused ministers of manipulating figures to vilify the poor.

However, Tory chairman Grant Shapps said: “It is wrong to leave people out in the cold with effectively no roof over their heads because the taxpayer is paying for rooms which aren’t in use. It’s just a common-sense reform, which in the end will help house more people.”

He said the reforms were vital to tackle the deficit, would encourage people off benefits and into work and help to ease housing shortages.

WHAT BENEFIT SHAKE-UP MEANS

“Bedroom tax” is the name coined by Labour for the UK government’s decision to remove housing benefit from council house and housing association tenants who live in homes larger than they need.

The Tories call the money the “spare-room subsidy” and point out the same support is not available to people living on housing benefit in homes owned by private landlords.

The measure is aimed at trying to force people to leave homes that are too big for their personal needs.

The typical target is a single person living in a two- or three-bedroom house. The idea is the person then moves into single-bedroom accommodation to make way for a family

However, questions have been raised whether there is enough social housing of that size available.

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