The arguments over the so-called Bedroom Tax have been rehearsed on this site on many occasions and it's been in the news today, with the judgement that it does not discriminate against disabled people.
The Department of Work and Pensions has separately announced extra money to help those worst affected. This will be given to Councils to give to those most in need. I understand that ministers did consider further exemptions but felt that it was fairer to allow councils to make the decisions because they were dealing directly with the tenants concerned and knew more about their circumstances.
The extra money, as the DWP announcement shows, is split 3 ways:
- £10 million transitional payments to all councils
- £5 million to fund Discretionary Housing payments in rural areas where there is likely to be no chance of a move to a smaller property
- A new £20 million Discretionary Housing Payment fund
The fact that this announcement has been made at all is largely down to the efforts of Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie and Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore in persuading Nick Clegg that these measures were badly needed. Willie in particular has worked so hard on this as he promised to do in February when he said:
I am in constant dialogue (with the UK Government) because I've gathered evidence myself, I've seen people who are going to be affected by this. I'll be working to make sure people are not hurt.
He welcomed the news of the extra funding today, saying it was a sensible and responsive move which will help those who have faced unintended consequences of this policy:
After months of research, listening and detailed discussions about the implementation of housing benefit reform this is a sensible and responsive move that will assist many people.
A key objective of the policy is to incentive people to move to the right sized houses for their needs and to make work pay. However, with any big change there are unintended consequences.
I know of people who should not be facing additional housing costs as a result of the reforms and I have been determined that changes should be made to the policy to address this issue.
I am grateful for the support of Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and MP John Thurso in achieving a doubling of the support fund.
This is significant progress and would not have happened without the intervention of these Liberal Democrats who have built an evidence based case and secured the extra help.
Update: Duncan Stott pointed out on Facebook that Liberal Democrats in Stockport Council have found a very fair way of dealing with this, outlined here on ALDC's blog. Cllr Stuart Bodsworth explains:
Our under-occupancy policy means that as soon as a Stockport Homes resident says they want to downsize, any arrears that are accrued due to their under-occupancy will be isolated. Once they move to smaller accommodation those arrears will be paid off by the hardship fund not by the resident. Those arrears are not the fault of the resident, they didn’t cause them, they didn’t ask for them and they shouldn’t have to suffer the consequences of someone else’s actions. That’s a basic principle of natural justice, isn’t it?