Fife Council leader Alex Rowley confirmed this week that Fife will not qualify for any of the additional £5m allocated for rural areas to support people cope with the bedroom tax as this is restricted to 21 authorities in the UK and Fife is not one of them. He said “This additional funding is specifically aimed at helping the 21 least densely populated areas in Great Britain. This funding is to avoid a disproportionate impact on those affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy in remote and isolated communities where the geography means that the potential remedies are less readily available.
“A further £20m has been allocated to Discretionary Housing Payments at a UK level and Fife will be able to bid in for additional resources. We are waiting to hear more on how this process will operate in order that we can make a bid. The DWP has also corrected the 2013-14 Scottish DHP allocations and Fife has gained by £121k. There is also the potential for the Council to top up this funding by 150% and we are considering this”.
The initial assessment of how under occupation or bedroom tax would affect Fife was Fife Council Properties – 4,952 based on 4,105 properties with 1 excess bedroom and 847 properties with 2 excess bedrooms. For Housing Associations – 1,309 properties based on 1,045 properties with 1 excess bedroom and 264 properties with 2 excess bedrooms. This gives a combined total of 6,261 social housing tenants in Fife identified to be impacted by under occupation.
“To date the Council has received 1,783 applications for Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) related to under occupation and 1,140 tenants have been successful in their application for support. The amount awarded for under occupancy is £243,167 which is based largely on providing support for a 6 month period at 75% of the benefit/rent gap. The Executive Committee will consider a report on the 20th August that proposes a DHP Policy for Fife. If this is agreed the Council will extend the support in terms of the period covered and the level of support given to priority cases.
“The total DHP spending to date is £294,274 and this is higher than the figures quoted above as it includes other cases that are not under occupation. The Council has assessed over 2,000 applications and efforts are being made to increase the awareness of the fund in order that those who need support can receive it. A DHP application form can be downloaded from www.fifedirect.org.uk/dhp or by contacting the Benefits & Council Tax team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning 08451 551155.
“Fife Council is one of 6 authorities within Scotland who have topped the DHP allocation made by the DWP up by the maximum permitted by legislation. Fife currently has a DHP fund of £1 million. The allocation by the DWP has been increased in the last week by a further £121,000 and the Council can top the fund up by a further £182,000. This is not sufficient to cover all of the tenants whose benefit has been reduced, however it will provide a level of short term support for those impacted by the changes where a need for financial assistance can be demonstrated”.
He concluded; “This bedroom tax is just plain wrong and should be scrapped. We have cases where the council has spent tens of thousands of pounds adapting houses for disability and now the tenants are being told they should move which would cost even more public money. The bottom line is we do not have the houses with fewer rooms to accommodate every household that is deemed to have too many bedrooms.
“I wonder what kind of society we live in that our government can target people on low income and tell them they can no longer live in a two bedroom house if they are a couple and must move to a one bedroom house or pay a penalty that will drive them into even more hardship. People with disability may need a room to themselves, couples have their family, grandchildren coming to stay, divorced parents can have access to children and for some couples they may not always sleep in the same room but this policy is telling all those people based on the fact that they are on low incomes that they cannot have two bedrooms.
“We don’t need bits of money to soften the blow, we need recognition that we do not have the houses and recognition that this policy is a direct attack on the poorest and their families and is driving people into even greater hardship. It is estimated that half a million people a year will be in receipt of a food parcel by 2016. Is this really the kind of society we want? The bedroom tax must be scrapped and I hope people will join the campaign and stand up against this inhumane policy”.