No one in the Western Isles has to pay the ‘Bedroom Tax’ as there is enough funding to cover the cost through discretionary housing payments.
The funding, given to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar by the UK and Scottish Governments to help alleviate the impact of the Spare Room Subsidy, is enough to cover the cost of the policy for all tenants affected in the isles this year.
And from the start of this month the Comhairle decision to reverse criteria restrictions on who can access discretionary housing payments has taken effect. This means tenants are no longer required to apply to move to a smaller house to be eligible for help.
“The only requirement is they still have to make a claim for the money,” explained Comhairle Convener Norman MacDonald. “I can’t see any reason why anybody wouldn’t claim.”
However Cllr MacDonald expressed concern that the funding is only guaranteed until March 2015, which could see the ‘Bedroom Tax’ again cause issues in the Western Isles.
All three island council received additional support from the Department for Work and Pensions to provide what has been described as ‘transitional protection’ to rural regions where housing stock is low. This funding is not guaranteed beyond next year.
Commenting on the current situation regarding funding John Maciver, Director of Operations at the Hebridean Housing Partnership (HHP), said: “It is good news, no doubt about that. The issue is to encourage people to apply.”
That also includes making sure those who have been paying the ‘Bedroom Tax’ know they no longer need to, Mr Maciver explained.
The ‘Bedroom Tax’ has already had an impact on the Western Isles however. Already £12,000 of rent arrears has been built up. This shortfall occurred before Government grants fully covered the cost of the policy.
“People who have accrued arrears are still liable for them,” explained Mr Maciver. “That wouldn’t generally be backdated.”