The STUC is clear that the Bedroom Tax is an unfair, immoral and frankly absurd policy that will do nothing to improve the housing crisis that exists in this country but will heap misery on some of the most vulnerable people in our society, many of whom were already bearing the brunt of the Government’s austerity policies.
STUC is supporting an array of anti-bedroom tax campaigns across Scotland and is clear that there are a number of ‘asks’ we can make of our politicians at all levels to improve the situation including: ‘no evictions’ policies from councils; reclassification of rooms so the bedroom tax is not incurred; and of course a repeal of the ghastly policy by the Westminster Government.
While undoubtedly all the above approaches are important and will form part of the STUC’s future campaigning work in this area, there was one issue that we believe needs more attention, particularly in the run up to our Bedroom Tax Conference on Saturday 29th June in Edinburgh. That is: Discretionary Housing Payments.
It’s the STUC’s view that Discretionary Housing Payments are too often overlooked in the debate about the Bedroom Tax and are an important tool at the disposal of both Councils and the Scottish Government to mitigate it.
Importantly they also stop families falling into debt. Even on the most optimistic assessment people with just one additional room would be £750 worse off or in debt by 2014; £1500 by 2015 and £2250 by 2016. Frightening isn’t it....This is why the STUC believes that keeping families out of debt (and therefore using Discretionary Housing Payments more effectively) needs to play a key role in our anti-bedroom tax campaign.
This blog aims to tell you all you need to know about Discretionary Housing Payments but the STUC is also calling on all those concerned about the bedroom tax to find out if your own Council is topping up its Discretionary Housing Payment fund.
Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) are regulated by the DWP with funding provided by the UK Treasury. STUC’s understanding of DHPs is as follows:
- They are made available on application to individuals in receipt of Housing Support for people who find themselves in difficulties for a range of reasons
- The application is made to the local authority
- Can be used for those in difficulty as a consequence of the change to occupancy rules (Bedroom Tax), Benefits cap etc.
- Each local authority receives funding from the UK Government and may, if it wishes, supplement that amount by up to 150%. i.e. If a council received £1 million in DHP from the Government it would be able to legally spend £2.5 million on DHP overall
- STUC has not undertaken a full analysis but believes that councils tend not to supplement the basic figure and in some recent years have even underspent their budgets
- Councils are given a fair degree of discretion in how they administer the system and for whom.
- Although the DHP is by application, the UK government explicitly states that individuals can be contacted and encouraged to apply. They can also apply by phone rather than filling out a form.
- The UK government increased Discretionary Housing Payments substantially last year to partially deal with the fall-out from their disastrous welfare policy.
- The current UK figures for DHP are (approx.) £160 million in 2013-2014, and £130 million in 2014-2015.
- Scotland received an increase in DHP for 2013-2014 (but Scottish Government believes it should have been higher as a proportion of overall total). DHP in Scotland now stands at £10 million. This means that the overall capacity for DHP which can be legally spent in Scotland is £25 million. An increase of around £22 million since last year. Most of this could be used to mitigate the bedroom tax.
- As the providers of 80% of local government funding it is open to the Scottish Government to provide this money.
BUTWhere does the money come from?
STUC recognises that budgets are under strain. Scottish Government has received serial cuts and these have been passed on to local government. The Council Tax freeze further pressurises local budgets.
Are we not agreed that the Bedroom Tax presents a particular moral attack which should be opposed? STUC believes that the money should be found and that it should found prior to the Scottish Government’s budget for 2014-2015 being debated in the autumn of this year.