Scottish Government has no Plans to Alter Housing Act to Prevent Evictions over Bedroom Tax

Today (7 March) at general questions Housing Minster, Margaret Burgess, also MSP for Cunningham South, confirmed that the Scottish Government has no plans to amend section 16 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 to allow rent arrears accrued as a result of the bedroom tax to be treated as an ordinary debt in law instead of contributing to rent arrears.

This small change, well within the Scottish Governments power, would help prevent increased number of eviction proceedings, and prevent people being evicted because of Bedroom Tax arrears.

A petition which has been currently signed by 4232 people has been presented to the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to make the change and it is supported by many charities such as; Oxfam, Govan Law centre, Shelter and Glasgow Central Citizens Advice Bureaux

Labour MSP, Margaret McDougall, said: “I am disappointed in Housing Minster, Margaret Burgess’s answer at General Questions today, considering her former colleagues in Citizens Advice Centres seem to be supportive of this change. Instead of outlining what the Scottish Government will do with the powers they already have she was happy to just blame the United Kingdom Government and claim they were confident they would see no increase in evection rates.”

“I certainly don’t support the “Bedroom Tax” nor do my Labour Colleagues and will fight it at all levels to try and force the UK Government to drop the plans, but we need real action from the SNP rather than rhetoric.  Rhetoric isn’t going to protect the one hundred thousand Scots that will be directly worse off and the forty thousands who are likely to face rent arrears!”

“The SNP seem content to lay the blame at everyone else’s door, but it’s not protecting the people of Scotland and it is simply not good enough. They need to start using the powers they already have, instead of blaming a lack of them for their total inaction on issues that really matter to ordinary Scots.”

The petition is available here to sign – http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/GettingInvolved/Petitions/bedroomtax

You can watch the full exchange here from 0:06 till 3:35 – http://www.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/scotland-21699660

Or Read it below:

General Question Time Housing Benefit Changes (Homeless People) 1. Margaret McDougall (West Scotland) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Government what the impact of the housing benefit changes in April 2013 will be on the number of homeless people in Scotland. (S4O-01882)

The Minister for Housing and Welfare (Margaret Burgess): We cannot be certain what the United Kingdom Government cuts to welfare will mean in terms of homelessness. The extent to which people are likely to become homeless will depend on tenant and landlord behaviours. That is why we are doing all that we can to help landlords and tenants respond in a way that minimises impacts on homelessness. We have been working closely with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and others since the UK Government first announced its reforms in August 2010 to protect tenants and help landlords prepare. However, should it come to it, we have one of the best homelessness safety nets in Europe, of which we are justly proud. All households that are deemed to be unintentionally homeless are entitled to settled accommodation.

Margaret McDougall: Has the Scottish Government considered utilising its powers to amend section 16 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 to allow rent arrears accrued as a result of the bedroom tax to be treated as ordinary debt in law instead of as contributing to rent arrears? That would help prevent increased numbers of eviction proceedings and prevent people from being evicted because of bedroom tax arrears. That option has been proposed by Govan Law Centre and is supported by Shelter Scotland, Money Advice Scotland and Oxfam. If the Scottish Government is not supportive of that option or is unwilling to introduce the amendment, what are its plans using its current powers to limit the damage that will be done to 100,000 Scots who will be directly—

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): I think that we have got the question, Ms McDougall.

Margaret McDougall: —worse off and 40,000 who are likely to face rent arrears?

Margaret Burgess: The Scottish Government does not want to see people running up debt from rent arrears, but the member’s question is based on the presumption that there will be mass evictions because of rent arrears, which is simply not the case. I speak to landlords throughout Scotland and I know that they look at evictions and rent arrears on an individual basis, which is how it should be. It is about the individual and their circumstances, and whether it is appropriate to take the ultimate action of eviction, which will not happen often. We cannot look at rent arrears arising from the bedroom tax separately from rent arrears arising from any other part of welfare reform. We have to look at the issue of rent arrears in total and consider what is happening to individuals and their full circumstances. We do not want to see people building up ordinary debt and then being pursued for it and having their bank accounts arrested or, ultimately, being bankrupted. That is why we have put £5.4 million into advice services to assist people who are struggling in the current circumstances. We also continue to lobby the Westminster Government, because we should not forget that the welfare reforms are UK legislation that we have constantly asked the UK Government to scrap. We have highlighted to it the points that have been raised about that legislation. I was in London yesterday, as was the Deputy First Minister, and we made some very strong points on behalf of the people of Scotland to the UK Government, which is well aware of the feeling here on the issue. I do not want people suggesting that there will be mass evictions because of rent arrears—that is simply not the case. Everybody who is struggling to pay their rent will be looked at sympathetically. Through the pre-action requirements that we set last year, we will ensure that people will get every support if they are struggling to pay their rent.

The Presiding Officer: This is an important subject, so I am prepared to take supplementaries, but I would be very grateful for brief questions from members and brief answers from the minister.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP): On 17 September last year, Ms McDougall issued a press release calling on the Scottish Government to show some sense of urgency by putting in place new housing stock so that people would not be hit by the bedroom tax. Does the minister agree that it is ludicrous to suggest that 100,000 or so homes could magically be put in place in a few short months and that Labour is simply using the bedroom tax to attack this Government, rather than finding realistic solutions or criticising the UK Government that introduced this unwanted measure?

Margaret Burgess: I absolutely agree. The suggestion was ludicrous. Nobody could put houses up in the timescale that was suggested by the Margaret McDougall. However, there is a serious point to be made. The Labour Party is accepting the UK legislation and allowing it to impact on the policies that we decide are right for Scotland. For example, we have a policy of two-bedroom houses—a house for all. Yesterday, I asked Lord Freud to treat that as the minimum requirement in Scotland. Housing is a devolved responsibility and the UK legislation is impacting on it negatively.

Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con): What capacity exists in the Scottish Government’s policy to ensure that we work in conjunction with benefit changes to ensure that Scotland’s underutilised housing capacity is matched with the demand for social housing?

Margaret Burgess: That is nonsense. The changes to housing benefit mean that we are suffering because of a problem in London and the south of England. That is highlighted by the fact that the Department for Work and Pensions and the Westminster Government say that a minimum of 80,000 people will be affected in Scotland, when we know that the figure is more than that— it is 105,000. In London, 80,000 people will be affected, and it is getting £56 million in discretionary housing payments. Scotland, however, is getting £10 million. It is not a problem in Scotland; it is a problem in the south of England, but we are suffering because of it.

 

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About Margaret McDougall MSP

MSP for the West Scotland Region

Posted on March 7, 2013, in News and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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