Rent arrears soar due to the ‘Bedroom Tax’

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The Hebridean Housing Partnership (HHP) has seen rent arrears soar as tenants fail to pay the cost of the spare room subsidy.

Better known as the ‘bedroom tax’, more than 180 social housing tenants in the Western Isles deemed to have a spare bedroom have been hit with cut in housing benefit.

And now HHP is also feeling the pressure as they report an additional £16,000 in rent arrears has been accumulated due to the policy, with the figure expected to rise.

John Maciver, HHP Director of Operations, explained: “If our arrears continue to increase as our board agree budgets they will have to factor and reflect it in other arrears of expenditure. What the impact will be is difficult to say.

“The initial picture was that one third of people were paying, one third paying in part and one third not paying at all. That has moved on a wee bit as more help has been made available with the Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP).”

The DHP, issued by the Comhairle, totals £107,388 in the Western Isles for the year 2013-14. Tenants who are in the ‘greatest need’ are eligible for help from the fund. Out of the 180 households affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ the majority, around 110, are receiving this assistance.

Mr Maciver continued: “Our position is we expect people to pay rent that is due and will take enforcement action to ensure that. That includes legal action to recover monies and if necessary seek to evict.”

However he stressed: “That is absolutely a last resort. It is not in our interest to do that. Legal action costs money and if you evict the chances of getting the money back is zero. It all about working with people.”

He continued: “We are grateful to CNES for the assistance being given both through DHP and through the lobbying of Government to seek an exemption for the islands from this unfair and unjust tax.”

HHP are encouraging all households affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ to seek assistance from the DHP fund. However Mr Maciver explained many are put off doing so as it often requires tenants applying to move to a smaller house.

He continued: “Understandably, many don’t want to move from their home and cannot therefore qualify for DHP payment. But we are advising tenants that even though they apply for rehousing it is likely that waiting times will be very lengthy before any offer would be made because of the demand for smaller houses.”

Meanwhile the Comhairle is continuing its campaign to see an island exemption for the bedroom tax. Council Leader Angus Campbell held a video conference with David Mundell, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Scotland, last month and again raised the issue with him.

Asked if he was optimistic the campaign would be successful Mr Maciver commented: “We’re always hopeful common sense will prevail.”

Despite the rising arrears and cost of providing support to tenants a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson insisted: “It’s simply not affordable to pay housing benefit for people to have spare rooms and our reforms in the social sector mean families receive help for the number of bedrooms they need.”

She continued: “Scotland has been given over £13 million in Discretionary Housing Payment funding this year to help vulnerable people and we are monitoring this spending carefully.”