People in Scotland may end up avoiding the so-called bedroom tax altogether under proposals by the devolved government.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has written to the UK Government’s Welfare Minister, Lord Freud, asking that legal restrictions on payments to those on housing benefits be lifted, so they can negate the impact of the controversial policy.
The Scottish National Party wants to be able to spend another £15 million in discretionary payments to housing benefit claimants, so they are not having their income docked for having a ‘spare’ room.
Discretionary spending to those struggling on housing benefits is currently fixed at 150 per cent of the local housing funds. Sturgeon wants this cap lifted altogether.
The Bedroom Tax was imposed on Scotland despite more than 90 per cent of Scottish MPs voting against it in the House of Commons. The policy means claimants lose 14 per cent of their housing benefit if a spare room is deemed unoccupied, resulting in benefit reductions of between £14 and £25 a week.
Sturgeon said: “The bedroom tax penalises some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We know that more than 12,000 children are affected and 80 per cent of households hit contain an adult with a recognised disability.
“We have already provided as much help as legally possible to those suffering from this unjust policy but we are unfairly restricted in what we can do.
“For example, despite Scotland having 20,000 more households affected by the bedroom tax than London, the DHP allocation for Scotland in 2014-15 is £35 million less than London.
“The Scottish Government are currently spending up to the legal limit in order to mitigate the effects of the bedroom tax on people across Scotland.
“We are more than willing to put in the extra £15 million, which would increase the amount of help available to a total of £50 million.
“If Westminster lifts the legal cap – which they can easily do – we will be able to help the 76,000 people in Scotland who are suffering from this cut.
“In order to make this legally possible, Westminster needs to lift the cap for Scotland and UK ministers should act now.”
The Department for Work and Pensions says that it only received bids from 11 out of the 32 Scottish local authorities for extra funding from the £20 million pot the UK Government set aside to support to local authorities. It argues there is still £15 million in this fund unallocated.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government's call for the current 150 per cent cap on discretionary housing payment top-ups to be increased doesn't fit with our experience of how the payments are currently working in Scotland. The UK Government set aside £20m of additional DHP funding support which local authorities could apply for through a bidding scheme. After operating for four months the scheme closes today and so far only 11 Scottish authorities have made a bid for additional funding.”