Pledge over ‘bedroom tax’

councillors have pledged to do everything they can to protect Midlothian tenants from the controversial ‘bedroom tax’ – including calls for a no evictions policy.

At last week’s meeting of the full council in Dalkeith, depute leader Owen Thompson (SNP) likened the fight against the bedroom tax to that of the poll tax in the 1980s.

Councillors agreed to “investigate” the potential of introducing a no evictions policy to help those who fall into arrears as a result of the new measures.

Changes implemented by the coalition government at Westminster will affect council tenants and those who rent from housing associations who are housing benefit claimants.

As of April 1, council tenants with a spare room will see their housing benefit cut by 14 per cent.

For those with two or more spare rooms, the cut will be 25 per cent.

Latest figures for Midlothian suggest that more than 1100 households are currently under occupied by one bedroom, with council tenants making up 739 of those.

It is estimated that 245 are under occupied by two or more bedrooms, with 124 of these being council tenants.

Depute Leader of the Council Owen Thompson (SNP) (pictured) has backed First Minister Alex Salmond’s commitment to a ‘no evictions for bedroom tax’ campaign.

He told last week’s meeting: “I’ve yet to speak to anyone who thinks this is a good idea.

“We need to do everything we possibly can to help those who are going to be penalised by the introduction of this tax. We need to continue the fight to have this removed as a similar strategy worked with the poll tax, eventually.

“This should be stopped and removed. There is no need for it. Why does Lord Freud [Welfare Minister and architect of the bedroom tax] think he is more deserving of a spare room than a single parent who has their child stay over at the weekend?

“That is essentially what this Tory government are doing – they are deciding who deserves to have a spare room in their property and those who do not.

“With council’s indulgence, I would suggest that we ask officers in our housing division to investigate the potential for us to apply a non-eviction policy in connection to the bedroom tax.

“Dundee City Council has agreed, that for a transitional period of one year, where the director of housing is satisfied that tenants are subject to the under-occupancy charge and are doing all they reasonably can to avoid falling into arrears, it will use all legitimate means to collect rents due except eviction.

“I would be delighted if we could do something similar – we should not be evicting people because of this punitive measure from Westminster.”

Melville Housing Association, Midlothian’s largest registered social landlord, estimates that 1,950 of its tenants will lose an average of £728 a year following the introduction of the bedroom tax. Staff from Melville have been working round the clock to prepare customers for the cuts.

Director of Housing Pat Aitken said: “We are doing everything we can to prepare customers for these drastic cuts. However the help and support we can give is limited and the bottom line is that we don’t have nearly enough small properties to meet demand. It is inevitable that these changes are only going to increase the hardship and distress that many of our tenants are already facing.

“We welcome the small concessions the government has made in recent weeks but believe there is still much more that they could do.

“For instance we question why there is now an exemption for disabled children who are unable to share a room while there are no allowances for disabled adults. It’s inconsistencies such as this that need to be ironed out.”