Speech against the Bedroom Tax in council debate

Lesley Brennan

City Chambers

11 March 2013

Moving the motion

The motion

I move the following:-

 1.        Ask the Committee to agree to request the Westminster Government to re-examine the measures it has put in place to cut housing benefit from some of Dundee's most vulnerable residents on the grounds that their social housing has a spare bedroom

2. Ask the Committee to acknowledge that this policy does not meet the Westminster Government’s stated policy objective of reducing the welfare bill given that if people moved house it would not save any money and it is more likely that expenditure in this area may rise if households move into smaller but more expensive private rented sector properties

3. Ask the Committee to acknowledge that according to the Westminster Government’s own impact assessment, two thirds of the households affected have a disabled person

4. Ask the Committee to call on the Westminster Government to withdraw this policy and think again

5.Ask the Committee to agree to write to the Scottish Government requesting them to amend Section 16 of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 2001 preventing potential 'Bedroom Tax' rent arrears, being used to justify eviction proceedings and requesting them to find funding mechanisms to fully support this

Moving speech

Housing is a very emotional issue because we invest so much of ourselves into our homes and to be forced out or face a charge that is not affordable is not much of a choice.

The people of Dundee want politicians to work together to reduce the harm of this bedroom tax.

The starting point of this motion is to recognise that we want to scrap the bedroom tax full stop.

People must pay their rents, and housing associations and councils cannot have their vital services in our communities undermined by the bedroom tax.

So, let’s be clear the bedroom tax is an attack on social housing and its tenants.

Housing staff are working hard to help their tenants who are directly and indirectly affected by this.

The Committee approved the Housing Department’s proposals:

·         Amendment of the Allocation Policy giving more priority points to households who under-occupy.

·         A modest budget to help 20 households to move house. 

·         Officers have been proactive in visiting tenants who are facing a 25% penalty to discuss housing options.

From using the housing exchange website, I know it is very active with people desperately trying to find swaps.

But it is accepted that there is a shortage of one-bedroomed properties in the social rented sector.

The Council is to receive £312,000 from DWP to assistant with discretionary housing payments and the Council has topped it up with another £150,000.

However, there is a significant gap between this and the potential rent loss due to the bedroom tax. 

Even if the Council had further resources to allocate to this budget it couldn’t, due to the Westminster cap of £780k. 

So, over recent months, you like me will have heard many worries regarding the bedroom tax.

One man told me that he will need to pay £84 bedroom tax per month and he only receives £71 per week.   So, while he’s waiting for a move, he will need to pay more than one week’s benefit money each month in order not to accrue rent arrears.

Another case is of a disabled couple, who rent a fully adapted property.

They have lived there for seven years and made many enhancements to the property, including adapting the poorly designed Council shower unit which allows water seep out.  Mrs X is her severely disabled husband’s fulltime carer. She sleeps in another room because of her husband’s disability. They face a 25% reduction.   

This unfair and unworkable penalty ought not to be used as an opportunity to promote independence.

This is people’s lives, and we need more action now

Devolution was designed for moments like this when the Scottish Parliament can come up with Scottish solutions to Scottish circumstances. 

Thus, it's time that the Scottish Government worked with other parties, councils and housing associations to protect the social rented sector and its tenants from the Tory bedroom tax rather than seeing it as a political gift from the Tories.

If we agree the bedroom tax is wrong then it follows if you are unable to avoid rent arrears because of under occupancy deductions, then that is not your fault; and it would be equally wrong for you to be evicted because of those bedroom tax arrears.

This motion is based on the work of the Govan Law Centre and Shelter Scotland, which is supported by Money Advice Scotland, Oxfam and many other organisations and tenants groups, such as the Balmoral Tenants and Residents Association.

I don’t want tenants to run up debts due to the bedroom tax but I fear that this is an unavoidable consequence; therefore, I request that the Scottish Government allocate money to off-set the bedroom tax’s devastating impact for social landlords and tenants.

So, I am asking my colleagues opposite for independence of mind - and support this motion.

Summing up

Thank you, convenor

I shall sum up.

But before going any further, I wish to clarify for my colleagues opposite the issue of Labour’s reform of private sector housing benefit.

To do this, I quote one of his colleagues, the SNP MP Dr Whiteford, “the big red herring in this debate [is] namely the argument that the private rented sector is comparable to the social rented sector.”

One is based on size and the other is based on price.

I cannot support the Convenor’s amendment because it is only offering eight months of protection and it ignores the 1,200 housing associations tenants in the City who are impacted by this bedroom tax.

There ought to be consistency across all social housing providers.

So, we ought to show solidarity and support all of the City’s tenants.

In addition, the amendment states that “the bedroom tax will lead to increased rent arrears, and considers that this represents financial risk to the Housing Revenue Account”. 

Thus, this amendment if successful may lead to a mid-year rent increase. Tenants have already faced a 5% increase.

When I discussed with officers an earlier draft of this motion, I was deeply concerned about causing a mid-year rent increase.

Therefore, I reshaped my motion and am calling on the Scottish Government to allocate money to off-set the bedroom tax’s potential devastating impact for social landlords and tenants.

Regarding concern about how the Scottish Government will find the money to resource the motion, the key part of being in government is making decisions where to allocate the money.

And they can do a mid-year adjustment.

The UK Coalition Government cut local government expenditure by 2% and this was passed on in the Barnett Consequentials but the SNP at Holyrood gave Scottish local authorities a 12% cut.

So, if the Scottish government wanted to solve this problem, they could find the money.   

Councillor Scott suggests that this measure is needed to bring down the welfare budget.

I suggest that the Coalition Government can bring down this budget by creating jobs by being the employer of last resort and start building more homes. 

82% of Scottish MPs did not vote for the under occupancy penalty, and stand in resolute opposition to it.

 So, whilst Labour and SNP MPs fight for change at Westminster, show us your independence of mind and support this motion.

 

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