Bedroom tax: Cut luxuries or risk benefits axe

Controversial move to crack down on 'non-essential items'. Picture: PA
Controversial move to crack down on 'non-essential items'. Picture: PA
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COUNCIL tenants affected by the bedroom tax are being told to quit luxuries such as cigarettes and alcohol – or face being denied emergency hardship payments.

City chiefs are advising people to cut back on “non-essential items” such as booze before asking for discretionary housing payments (DHPs) to cover a benefits shortfall.

The move would have boozer and smoker Frank Gallagher from Channel 4’s hit comedy Shameless spluttering into his can of Special Brew, especially as Sky television packages – which can cost as much as £75 a month – booze, fags and pricey mobile phone contracts are all being put under the microscope by the city council.

People must reveal details of their exact outgoings before qualifying for the payments.

Anti-bedroom tax campaigners have labelled the step “utter nonsense” and an “intrusion of privacy”.

And while the city’s vice-convener of housing, Cammy Day, said the unique crackdown is necessary to prevent the council’s oversubscribed DHP allocation from running out, he added he was “not comfortable” with the tough policy.

Cllr Day, whose Forth ward is one of the poorest in the city, said: “As a result of a policy imposed by the Conservative Party we are having to do this, otherwise our entire DHP allocation would have been spent in the first three months of the financial year.

“It is a horrible position to be in, having to make a judgement on people’s lifestyle choices.”

However, city Tory group leader Cameron Rose backed the stance. He said: “I think people would expect that those seeking taxpayer money are asked to rein in their spending on luxuries. People make decisions on how they can afford to spend their money within households every day and I don’t think it’s a bad discipline to encourage.”

Almost £332,000 of the city’s £1.43 million allocation for 2013-14 has already been handed out, and in the first two months of the bedroom tax 2216 DHP applications were received, compared with just 724 in the same period in 2012.

In August, the News revealed that hundreds of council tenants with a spare bedroom had been refused a total of £800,000 in emergency funding since the bedroom tax came into force on April 1.

The number of tenants of under-occupied council houses facing rent arrears had risen from 969 to 2561 in just eight weeks to August 7.

John McArdle, a spokesman for Black Triangle Campaign, a pressure group that opposes the bedroom tax, said: “The idea that Jobseeker’s Allowance or disability benefits enables people to get Sky TV or chain smoke all day is rubbish.

“This is just feeding into the right-wing tabloid belief that people decide upon unemployment as a lifestyle choice.”

Betty Stevenson, convener at Edinburgh Tenants Federation, is also “uncomfortable” with the policy.

She said: “For some TV is the only luxury they have and is it any wonder that people smoke when they are struggling to pay their rent, or put food on the table?”

In May, the council had the option to add up to £2m to UK Government DHP funding of £1.43m to help people hit by the bedroom tax and other welfare reforms.

But council officials revealed they were unable to identify “matched funding” and so the DHP fund was limited to the amount allocated by the Department of Work and Pensions.

Fears tax will cause homelessness

FEARS have been raised that hundreds of housing association tenants will be made homeless as they fall into arrears because of the bedroom tax.

Cllr Steve Burgess, Green member for Southside and Newington, said several hundred individuals could be evicted as they approach an arrears “tipping-point”, caused by reductions in housing benefits to claimants deemed to have too much living space. He said: “There’s a real concern that, as arrears mount, housing associations will start to evict tenants, making many of them homeless.”

But at a recent meeting, housing association bosses said no court action had been taken against tenants because of bedroom tax arrears.