Call for powers to scrap ‘bedroom tax’ in Scotland

The UK government should abolish the bedroom tax or hand the Scottish Parliament powers to scrap the controversial policy, Holyrood’s welfare reform committee has said.

MSPs said many Scots were trapped into paying the bedroom tax. Picture: Robert Perry

A report from the committee criticised the tax as “iniquitous and inhumane” in one of the most scathing attacks from Holyrood on the UK Tory-Lib Dem government’s policy.

The measure means social housing tenants with spare bedrooms must move to a smaller home or lose up to 25 per cent of housing benefit.

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Westminster ministers who hold powers over the tax should scrap the policy as the solution to a “bad law”, the cross-party welfare reform committee said.

MSPs said many Scots were trapped into paying the bedroom tax. Picture: Robert Perry

MSPs said many Scots were “trapped” into paying the “bedroom tax” and were left with nowhere to move due to a shortage of social housing properties in Scotland.

The report said the tax “may well breach” the human rights of tenants, because of the financial penalties faced by residents and the threat of effectively being forced to leave their homes.

Labour MSP Michael McMahon, the committee convener, said: “The ‘bedroom tax’ remains bad law. Treating people’s homes only as bricks and mortar, homes of around 65,000 disabled people and 15,000 homes with children, is simply not acceptable in this day and age.

“Smaller properties just aren’t available because we spent years developing our housing stock to offer homes people could grow their families in, so they could set down roots and establish communities.”

The Conservative-led coalition government has claimed the bedroom tax will cut the housing benefit bill by hundreds of millions of pounds a year and reduce the waiting list for council and social housing.

Meanwhile, the committee report called for the Scottish Government to explore further ways to “mitigate the impact of the ‘bedroom tax’ ” and to look at offering more financial support to poverty-stricken tenants.

SNP ministers have begun talks with Labour colleagues to devise a “legal way” to scrap the tax in Scotland. Finance secretary John Swinney and Labour shadow cabinet minister Iain Gray held the latest round of talks yesterday.

Nationalist MSP Jamie Hepburn suggested a year-long inquiry by the welfare reform committee had uncovered “disturbing” evidence of some poverty-stricken tenants losing their homes.

But a spokeswoman from the UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) defended the tax, saying “Britain has a very strong housing safety net” for vulnerable tenants.

The DWP spokeswoman said: “Reform of the spare room subsidy is absolutely necessary to make a better use of our social housing when thousands of Scots are living in overcrowded homes.”