Campaign begins in bid to ease tax burden

Anti Bedroom tax demonstrators marcedh from St Andrews Square to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood.  Picture Ian Rutherford
Anti Bedroom tax demonstrators marcedh from St Andrews Square to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. Picture Ian Rutherford

There is growing concern that homelessness in the Borders could rise if the large numbers of people affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ don’t come forward for help.

Since the introduction of the so called ‘bedroom tax’ over 1000 households in the region have been hit with having their housing benefit reduced because they have more bedrooms than considered necessary.

Scottish Borders Council has received £1.19 million to help people out with discretionary housing payments during this financial year.

However, many people entitled to the extra help are not applying and households known to be affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy are now being targeted with leaflets telling them how to apply for discretionary housing payments.

Follow up visits will be made and leaflets and posters circulated in libraries and health centres. The council will also work with housing associations such as Berwickshire Housing Association to try and reach individual who need support.

More than £300,000 of the £1.19 million discretionary housing payment money came to the Borders as additional funding because of its rural location and the difficulty in moving people into smaller premises within their own town or village.

Scottish Borders Council had set aside £58,180 from their own budget to mitigate the housing benefit changes but with money from both the UK and Scottish Governments being made available it looks like that money won’t be needed during the current financial year and councillors are being asked at today’s meeting (Thursday, October 31) to carry it forward to 2014/15.

So far the only definite funding to help address housing benefit deficits in the next financial year is around £125,000 from the Department of Work and Pensions.

Housing associations, Citizens Advice Scotland, and Scottish Borders Council have worked together to assess the impact of the spare room subsidy changes and they identified 18 issues that need addressed. They reported that: “Vulnerable people are being forced to move away from their support groups as a result of the removal of the spare room subsidy.”

At the other end of the scale came reports of people ‘playing the system’ and changes being proposed by SBC include establishing “standard expenditure levels” and priority levels which will be used in assessing all cases.

Priority for the council’s discretionary grant money will be given to those looking for more affordable accommodation. Assistance will be given to people in employment who live in areas with limited housing options; and the availability of housing stock and turnover will be checked to establish what alternatives residents have - if any.