Holyrood versus Whitehall on the Bedroom Tax

The Scottish and UK governments are on a collision course over the bedroom tax.

The Scottish and UK governments are on a collision course over the bedroom tax after ministers at Holyrood called on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to lift restrictions placed on their ability to support those affected by the tax.

The UK government has previously passed legislation that imposes a cap on the help that the Scottish government can give to mitigate the effects of the tax.

According to the Scottish government, scrapping the cap would easily remove the legal restriction on the payment of Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs), allowing Scottish ministers to add an extra £15 million to the help those Scottish households affected by the policy.

In a letter to UK welfare minister Lord Freud, deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon wrote that if the cap is repealed, the Scottish government will be able to commit the extra funding in housing help for those who need it most – increasing the current DHP funds of £35 million to £50 million in 2014/15 and helping the 76,000 people in Scotland hit by the ‘Bedroom Tax’.

Declaring that the only way the tax could properly be repealed in Scotland is through independence, Ms Sturgeon commented:

“The Bedroom Tax penalises some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We know that over 12,000 children are affected by the Bedroom Tax 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 is currently spending up to the legal limit in order to mitigate the effects of the Bedroom Tax on thousands of 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.”

She continued:

“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.”

Scottish Labour last night committed to supporting the move, if contained within the Scottish Budget just days after the two parties agreed to work together to find legal ways of repealing the tax. Last week, the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee also called for what it described as an “iniquitous and inhumane” policy to be repealed altogether.

The growing opposition north of the border however seems to have fallen on deaf ears in London with a spokesperson for the DWP responding to the latest developments:

“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 DHPs 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 [around a third] Scottish authorities have made a bid for additional funding.”

Whilst the spokesperson said that the DWP would consider the SNP’s request, they never the less concluded that the department “don’t see a need for that at the moment.”

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