Legal limits imposed by the UK Government on the help the Scottish Government can give to mitigate the effects of the Spare Room Subsidy, also known at the ‘Bedroom Tax’, should be lifted, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said yesterday.
By scrapping the ‘cap’ it has currently imposed, the UK Government could remove the legal restrictions on Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs), allowing Scottish ministers to add an extra £15 million to the help already given to hard-pressed households in Scotland.
More than 180 social housing tenants in the Western Isles are deemed to have a spare bedroom have been hit with cut in housing benefit.
Recently the Hebridean Housing Partnership told the Gazette that it is also feeling the pressure as they reported an additional £16,000 in rent arrears has been accumulated due to the policy, with the figure expected to rise.
In a letter to UK Welfare Minister Lord Freud, Ms Sturgeon sets out that if the cap is repealed, the Scottish Government will be able to commit the extra funding in housing help for those who need it most – increasing the current DHP funds of £35 million to £50 million in 2014/15 and helping the 76,000 people in Scotland hit by the ‘Bedroom Tax’.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “In order to abolish the Bedroom Tax we need the powers that would come from independence.
“The Bedroom Tax penalises some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We know that over 12,000 children are affected by the Bedroom Tax and 80 per cent of households hit contain an adult with a recognised disability.
“We have already provided as much help as legally possible to those suffering from this unjust policy but we are unfairly restricted in what we can do. For example, despite Scotland having 20,000 more households affected by the Bedroom Tax than London, the DHP allocation for Scotland in 2014/15 is £35 million less than London.
“The Scottish Government is currently spending up to the legal limit in order to mitigate the effects of the Bedroom Tax on thousands of people across Scotland. We are more than willing to put in the extra £15 million, which would increase the amount of help available to a total of £50 million.
“If Westminster lifts the legal cap – which they can easily do - we will be able to help the 76,000 people in Scotland who are suffering from this cut.
“In order to make this legally possible Westminster needs to lift the cap for Scotland and UK ministers should act now.”