Scotland politics

MSPs call for end of 'bedroom tax'

Bedroom interior Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption About 80,000 households in Scotland are said to have been affected by the housing benefit changes

A Holyrood committee has called on the UK government to abolish the spare room subsidy or hand powers to the Scottish Parliament to enable it do so.

The Welfare Reform Committee made the recommendation in its interim report on the issue.

It followed scrutiny of the impact of the removal of the so-called "bedroom tax", and other welfare changes.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said reform of the spare room subsidy was absolutely necessary.

But the committee's report described the "bedroom tax" as "bad law", and claimed it was "iniquitous and inhumane and may well breach tenants' human rights".

The committee took evidence from a range of organisations and individuals affected by the changes.

It found that the reform has had a "disastrous impact", with some tenants forced to move to smaller properties, and others facing rent arrears.

Disabled and vulnerable people are also being disproportionately affected, the committee said.

Meanwhile, the committee said that although the reforms will reduce the housing benefit budget, it introduced a number of new costs to tenants, housing associations, local authorities, the Scottish government and others, and therefore may cost more than it saves.

The committee also stated that the level of Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) originally allocated by the DWP to deal with the transitional problems associated with the changes was not enough.

It called on the DWP to increase its level of support and confirm its allocation of funds for DHP for the next two years.

While an extra £20m of funding for DHP from the Scottish government was welcomed, the committee said it should explore further ways to mitigate the impact.

Committee convener Michael McMahon said: "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 reality for many is they cannot pay, and they cannot move.

"And to make the situation even more frustrating, it is entirely possible it is costing the public purse more to implement than it is saving.

"The only conclusion the majority of the committee could come to, when faced with the evidence and research we have seen, is to call for the UK government to abolish the 'bedroom tax' with immediate effect. And if they won't do that, to give the Scottish Parliament the powers and resources to do so."

A spokeswoman for the DWP 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.

"We have announced more than £15m in funding for Scottish local authorities for 2014-2015, an increase of more than £1.7m to ensure we can support vulnerable claimants and help them make the transition.

"Britain has a very strong housing safety net and even after our necessary reforms we continue to pay the majority of most claimants' rent if they are affected by the ending of the spare room subsidy."

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