Local Labour politicians have stepped up their campaign in favour of a "no evictions" policy for any tenants hit by the "bedroom tax"
On Friday, Dumfries and Galloway Council's Welfare Reform Sub Committee met with representatives of the region's two largest social housing landlords- Dumfries and Galloway Housing Partnership and Loreburn Housing- and told them that any evictions over the bedroom tax should be avoided.
Labour Group Finance Spokesperson Colin Smyth said, "I have a lot of sympathy with Housing Associations who are losing hundreds of thousands of pounds due to the Tory Government's hated bedroom tax. But the two largest Housing Associations were left with a clear message that evicting someone who fell into arrears simply due bedroom tax was totally unacceptable as the victims have no control over this tax. There is a clear difference between someone who won't pay and those who can't pay. There is plenty of action that social housing landlords can take to secure rent arrears from someone who can afford to pay, without resorting to evictions. The reality is evicting people will cost the taxpayer more. The council will end up having to pay for homeless accommodation or the person evicted may move into private accommodation, where rents are more expensive so the housing benefit bill for the taxpayer is even higher. It simply shows that the bedroom tax isn't about saving money, it is a vindictive attack on the most vulnerable in society. The council and Housing Associations should now work together to agree a no evictions policy"
Meanwhile, at the meeting Councillors unanimously gave their backing to motion from Councillor Smyth calling on the Scottish Government to back a change in housing legislation that would make it illegal to evict someone who was in arrears due to the bedroom tax. Labour are proposing a bill in the Scottish Parliament to introduce such a change and local Tory and SNP MSPs are now under pressure to back Labour's move.
Dumfriesshire MSP Elaine Murray welcomed the cross party support for Labour's plans.Elaine said, “I am pleased that councillors from all parties back Labour's proposal that would amend the Housing Act to make it illegal to evict someone who through no fault of their own find themselves in arrears due to the bedroom tax. However the challenge is now to local Tory and SNP MSPs. Will they vote for Labour's proposals in the Scottish Parliament or turn their back on their own local councillors and support kicking people out of their homes?"
“While those suffering under the bedroom tax, wait for the Scottish Government to take real action, I have written to both DGHP and LHA asking that in the wake of John Swinney’s concession of £20 million, which is intended to increase the availability of Discretionary Housing Payments from local authorities, they guarantee that any current action to evict any tenant on the grounds of bedroom tax arrears will be suspended and that no new actions will be commenced during the current financial year. Whilst this amount is nowhere near what is needed (£50m would prevent any evictions during this and the next financial year) it should assist with preventing evictions due to bedroom tax arrears during this current financial year.”
Dumfries and Galloway MP Russell Brown believes that opposition to "bedroom tax" is growing and the UK Government should scrap the tax. Russell Brown said, “Every day the opposition to the bedroom tax is growing and it’s now time for the Tory led government to scrap it and admit they got it badly wrong. Rural areas such as Dumfries and Galloway are disproportionately affected because even if someone in a two bedroom housing association property wanted to move to a one bedroom property to avoid being penalised by the bedroom tax, the reality is there are simply not the properties available for them. As a result people across our region are being hit by the bedroom tax and finding themselves with rent arrears and there is nothing they can do about it. It is now only a matter of time until someone in this position finds themselves being evicted by a Housing Association unless the tax is scrapped or the Housing Associations start to listen to local opposition agree to a no evictions policy".