Associations band together to campaign for fairness

One of the more controversial aspects of the Coalition Government's proposed budget cuts - apart from their impact on new-builds in the affordable housing sector - concerns those in housing benefit.

Scotland's housing associations and co-operatives and their member body, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) have been gathering petitions in an initiative called "Housing Benefits - the campaign for a fairer system".

One of the particular concerns is that under current proposals, people who have been on Jobseekers Allowance for 12 months or more will see their housing benefit cut by 10 per cent. Other concerns include the restriction of local housing allowance payments to properties in the lowest 30 per cent of rental levels, rather than picking a figure at the median level, and there is considerable anxiety over plans for a crude, national cap on housing benefit payments.

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In a recent debate in Westminster, Willie Bain MP (Glasgow North East, Labour) pointed out that a 10 per cent cut means that those tenants affected by the proposal will have to make up the difference in their rents from their jobseekers allowance. A single, childless person, therefore, will experience a drop of almost 30 per cent in their income.

In Bain's constituency alone, there are some 970 people who would be caught by the proposed cut, since they have been out of work for more than a year. They would lose an estimated 25 a week from their income. In all, the SFHA has calculated, more than 700,000 people across Scotland in the social and private rented sectors would be affected by the new rule, with an average loss of income of about 9 per week - this from an allowance that was less than generous in the first place.

The SFHA cites the SNP's Nigel Don (North East MSP), who told the association that while there was no doubt that the benefits system could use some simplification, this should not be confused with the cuts being proposed by the Coalition Government on a UK-wide level.

"I fear they will create homelessness and drive down standards in the private rented sector. Many people in the rural areas I represent live in privately rented accommodation, and I worry that some will struggle to pay their rent.

"Clearly this could have serious consequences in the towns and cities too, where more affordable social rented housing is in short supply," he said.

As part of its campaign, SFHA has joined forces with the National Housing Federation, the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations and Community Housing Cymru to generate a UK-wide campaign to highlight the problems with the government's proposals. The four federations are using their combined muscle to lobby UK and Scottish politicians to resist the changes that are proposed to come into effect from January 2012.

In Scotland, 60 per cent of social rented tenants rely on housing benefit to pay all or part of their rent, and there are some 250,000 applicants on housing association waiting lists. Mary Taylor, SFHA chief executive, warned that the cuts will fall on those least able to afford them and called for a fairer system.

"Britain's four housing federations have joined forces to demonstrate the detrimental effects these reforms will have on the ability of housing associations and co-operatives to provide vital affordable homes. The result will be more people pushed on to waiting lists for social housing, and more people struggling to pay their rent, at a time when we already desperately need more affordable housing.

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"We believe that while the system needs to change, what is proposed is arbitrary, not sensible long-term decision-making, and will adversely affect tenants and associations alike. There needs to be a sustainable, long-term plan for housing in this country which meets the different needs of different communities," she said.