29 March 2013
Let me be clear from the start I am opposed to the bedroom tax.
I am also prepared to work with anyone to alleviate the problems that this Coalition Government policy will cause.
Recently Dundee City Council had a debate about this policy.
The Labour Group put forward a proposal which called on the Scottish Government to use its powers to exclude arrears created by the bedroom tax from being a reason for eviction.
We also called upon the UK Government to withdraw this policy and think again.
Our proposals were defeated by a SNP amendment which included a lot of political rhetoric but for which the substantive point was that 'the City Council resolves that for a transitional period of one year, where the Director of Housing is satisfied that tenants who are subject to the under occupancy charge are doing all they reasonably can to avoid falling into arrears, it will use all legitimate means to collect rent due, except eviction.'
I didn't support the SNP amendment when it was put forward because I believe Labour's motion made more sense and dealt in a very clear cut way with the problem.
We looked for action from the Scottish Government which is a reasonable expectation given their professed opposition to the bedroom tax.
We did look for a change of heart from the UK Government but this was more in hope than expectation.
The SNP amendment, which won the day, is only for a period of one year and in effect we were told that this would mean that it was reviewed after eight months.
The SNP amendment puts the Director of Housing in an invidious position.
She has to decide whether someone is 'doing all they reasonably can' to avoid arrears.
This is a subjective test and in my mind, although I don't think that this was the intention, does take us along the route of deserving and undeserving poor.
The Director of Housing is also put in a very difficult position because she has a duty to all rent payers to ensure that she gets best value out of the Housing Revenue Account.
I am clear that our policy looked to deal with the problem by using the powers of the Scottish Parliament, where there is an apparently clear majority opposed to the bedroom tax.
Councils do need to do all they can to assist people caught up in the bedroom tax but we also need to be clear that we do not have the powers (or perhaps even more importantly, the resources) to deal with all the issues and that there are actions that can be taken by the UK and Scottish Governments which would make a real difference.
Cutting benefits to under-occupying tenants when there is little or no alternative accommodation in the social rented sector will burden social landlords with rising rent arrears and risks making people homeless.
This is wrong and actually risks costing the tax payer more and will also push people into the more expensive private-rented sector.
I have been out on the streets of Dundee campaigning against the Bedroom Tax, and there is no doubt in my mind that the people of Dundee are opposed to the Bedroom Tax.
The decision made by Dundee City Council has been lauded in recent days.
I am concerned that the policy of Dundee City Council is not quite all that has been claimed for it.
In the Scottish Parliament's Welfare Reform Committee on Tuesday the former Convener of Housing, Cllr Jimmy Black, perhaps gave the game away by pointing out that eviction is still an option for Dundee City Council.
I was really disappointed to see the Scottish Government reject Jackie Baillie's attempt to get them to legislate to alleviate the problems which will be caused by the Bedroom Tax.
It is a shame that councils are being left as the last line of defence against this pernicious policy.
In Dundee the budget to help people move to smaller accommodation is only £30,000, unfortunately this will not go very far.
It is a shame that the SNP Scottish Government has not taken all the action it could.
It is also a shame that the UK Government has not listened and has continued to push through this terrible policy.