West Dunbartonshire Council is set to be one of the first Councils in Scotland to agree a ‘no evictions policy’ for tenants affected by the ‘bedroom tax’. The Council has been looking at a variety of measures to help tenants without putting the housing budget at risk. The council has already committed over £2m towards initiatives that will help to protect the council against the worst aspects of the Welfare reform changes including: (i) Setting aside £950,000 to deal with an expected shortfall in rents from the council’s 240 temporary accommodation units; (ii) Increasing the amount of Discretionary Housing Payments to £813,000, the maximum legal amount of support the council can provide; and (iii) Setting aside an additional £550,000 to deal with expected shortfalls in rental income as a result of the bedroom tax. Speaking about the measures Council Leader Martin Rooney said: ‘We have already done more than most council’s to mitigate against the effects of the welfare reform change using over £1m of council tax taxpayer’s money and over £1m of tenants’ money to provide additional protection for the housing account and vulnerable tenants.’ West Dunbartonshire Council has also conducted an awareness raising campaign with all tenants and has also arranged visits to affected tenants, to offer advice and support. The Labour led Council is also planning to review its Corporate Debt Policy to take account of the Welfare Reform changes. The review is expected to specifically prioritise the payment of rent in order to ensure that council housing budgets are protected. This will ensure that jobs and services and the much needed investment of £85m will be secure. The review will also give a commitment to a ‘no evictions’ policy. Councillor Rooney added: ‘It is vital that our housing services are properly resourced to ensure that we can meet the Scottish Governments housing quality standard. The Council’s housing service directly funds hundreds of jobs including those in the Council’s Direct Labour Organisation. We need to make sure that these services and jobs are protected and that means finding a way to guarantee the housing income.’ As well as practical assistance the Council has also continued with its opposition to the Welfare Reform Act through COSLA. This has been principled opposition to the UK government Welfare Reform Act and COSLA had called on the Scottish Government to amend the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 to protect tenants. COSLA had also asked the Scottish Government to follow the Welsh example and fully fund the Council Tax Replacement Scheme next year. Councillor Rooney said: ‘Neither the local housing associations nor the Council housing department has the capacity to re-house all affected tenants into smaller dwellings. It is now clear that the UK government has no intention of scrapping its legislation and the Scottish Government appear unwilling to use their devolved powers to amend the housing (Scotland ) Act 2001. The Council therefore is the last line of defence against the Welfare Reforms and tenants are reliant on us taking effective action to protect social housing and to protect individuals’.
A copy of Councillor Rooney’s Motion is below:
MOTION – WEST DUNBARTONSHIRE COUNCIL WEDNESDAY 27th MARCH
Scottish Government Failure to Act on the Reductions in Housing Benefit Due to Under Occupancy Rules (Bedroom Tax)
This Council notes that the UK government set out the timetable for the introduction of the ‘Bedroom Tax’ in 2010. Since 2010 the Scottish Government, COSLA, political parties and voluntary organisations such as Citizens Advices Scotland, Shelter and many others have opposed the Welfare Reform changes. However, the Welfare Reform Act still received Royal Assent.
In addition, since coming to office in May 2012 the Labour administration has taken both a practical and a political approach to the Welfare Reforms. Our practical approach means that locally we have mitigated against some of the more negative impacts of Welfare Reform by setting aside over £2m of funding support by:
- Assuming a £950,000 shortfall in rent from our Temporary Accommodation.
- Maximising the amount of Discretionary Housing Payments to provide a fund of £813,000.
- Assuming a £550,000 loss of rents to the Housing Revenue Account.
In addition we launched a high profile publicity drive which involved housing and benefit trained staff visiting 2,000 council tenants affected by the bedroom tax and the local Housing Associations have carried out a similar campaign of awareness raising over a significant period and provided welfare advice services to their tenants.
The Council’s political approach has been fairly straightforward in that through COSLA we have continued with our principled opposition to the UK government Welfare Reform Act. We have also called on the Scottish Government to amend the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 to protect tenants. This includes the redefinition of bedrooms and amending the law to prevent evictions on the basis of rent arrears built up as a result of the Bedroom Tax. Council notes that the Scottish Parliament already has at its disposal the necessary devolved powers.
COSLA had also asked the Scottish Government to follow the Welsh example and fully fund the Council Tax Replacement Scheme next year. Again the Scottish Parliament has the necessary devolved powers at their disposal to do this. Council notes that on 22nd February the COSLA approach received unanimous support from: Labour, SNP, Conservative, Liberal Democratic and Independent Councillors.
Neither the local housing associations nor the Council housing department has the capacity to re-house all affected tenants into smaller dwellings. It is now clear that the UK government has no intention of scrapping its legislation and the Scottish Government appear unwilling to use their devolved powers to amend the housing (Scotland ) Act 2001.
The Council therefore is the last line of defence against the Welfare Reforms and tenants are reliant on us taking effective action to protect social housing and to protect individuals. The Council currently has a Corporate Debt Policy and a Rent Arrears Policy which ensures that a series of practical steps are taken to assist individuals who have council debts. Those residents who actively work with the Council to address debt issues are protected by the policy.
This Council authorises the Chief Executive to revise the Council’s Rent Arrears and Corporate Debt policies to take account of recent and future welfare changes such as cuts to housing benefit, cuts to tax credits, and the roll out of Universal Credit by including an explicit commitment of a ‘No Evictions Policy’ for rent arrears for tenants who actively work with and accept the support of the Council to agree a payment plan.
In addition, the updated Corporate Debt Policy is to specifically prioritise rent payments so that rental income is maintained and the integrity of the Housing Revenue Account is preserved. In addition tenancies can be sustained and the Council can continue to invest in its social housing stock.
Council acknowledges the potential risks to local housing associations and encourages them to adopt similar policies that help tenants to maintain their tenancies.