Islands pull together to banish bedroom tax threat

A united front against ‘Bedroom Tax’ has been launched from the Western Isles with councillors seeking to work with other island authorities and MSPs to push for an exemption for island residents.

The tax is one part of welfare reforms announced by the Westminster Government which will mean anyone claiming housing benefit who lives in a Hebridean Housing Association (HHP) home, which has a spare room, would have their housing benefit cut.

With the lack of alternative properties available in the Western Isles, island authorities are to push for an exemption.

The issue was discussed at last week’s council meetings and it was agreed that the Chief Executive Malcolm Burr should work with Orkney and Shetland councils and MSPs to put forward the island situation.

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan and Angus MacNeil MP have already raised this issue.

At the Policy and Resources Committe meeting, Stornoway councillor Charlie Nicolson questioned whether a hardship fund could be set up.

He said: “I am really concerned about the Bedroom Tax and it is one of the things which is going to affect people in these islands, is there a possibility of looking at a hardship fund?”

He was told by Director of Finance Robert Emmott that the council would be unable to offset the impact of the Bedroom Tax.

“There will be a scheme which deals with hardship,” he said: “But we don’t have the resources to mitigate the impact.”

South Uist and Barra councillor Donald Manford said: “This is a way of uniting the country in a way which has not been seen since the Poll Tax. It is an attack on the most vulnerable and it is a UK Government imposition – the simple way out is to remove their right to impose.”

Cllr Angus McCormack, Stornoway South, said there were already signs appearing in local shops from people looking for smaller homes to escape the Bedroom Tax.

As Chair of the Poverty Action Group, he said it was ‘not practical’ to say people should just move.