£15m bill to help Scotland’s bedroom tax families

SPENDING by Scotland’s councils on helping tenants affected by policies such as the bedroom tax has almost quadrupled since the controversial benefit change was introduced, official figures showed.

Scottish ministers blamed the rise in emergency payouts on hardship linked to bedroom tax. Picture: Robert Perry

Scottish Government figures showed that 45,772 households claimed almost £15.4 million during an eight-month period from April to November last year, with an average award value of £336.

The cash was paid out through discretionary housing payments (DHPs), which are used by councils to help tenants affected by policies like the UK government’s bedroom tax.

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Councils paid out almost four times more through DHPs than was spent in 2012-13, when just under £4m was claimed by tenants, the Scottish Government figures showed.

Scottish ministers blamed the rise in emergency payouts on hardship linked to bedroom tax. Picture: Robert Perry

Scottish ministers blamed the sharp rise in emergency payouts on hardship linked to the bedroom tax, which means social housing tenants with spare bedrooms must move to a smaller home or lose up to 25 per cent in benefits.

Payments are made by local authorities to housing benefit claimants who qualify for support, but are a reserved responsibility under the remit of the UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The Scottish Government topped up the funds by adding an extra £20m to help mitigate the impact of housing benefit changes like the bedroom tax.

The extra money brought DHP funding to a total of just over £35m for 2013-14 – about 94 per cent of what was estimated for the end of November 2013, according to the Scottish Government.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the findings showed the Scottish Government was taking action to mitigate the worst affects of the bedroom tax.

Ms Sturgeon said: “There is no doubt that people in Scotland are paying a heavy price for Westminster decisions.

“But these figures show that by working closely with our local authority partners, we have been able to provide support for over 45,500 households in Scotland.

“We will continue to do all we can to help. However, only an independent Scottish Parliament will give us the powers we need to scrap the bedroom tax.”

Meanwhile, the figures showed spending varied across the country: Perth and Kinross used only 29 per cent of the projected spend level, while Renfrewshire spent 180 per cent.

Labour’s social justice spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “These figures show an alarming level of underspend in the DHP budget, with £18.3m of DHP – more than half of the overall budget – still to be allocated before 31 March.

“While we welcomed the extra £20m allocated by the Scottish Government in October, this was too little, too late.

A UK government spokeswoman insisted the DWP had allocated more funds to Scotland to protect vulnerable tenants.

A spokesman from Scotland’s local councils body Cosla said: “These figures show local authorities are doing all they can.”