Bedroom tax row leads to city rent arrears crisis

Neil Robertson says the poor are at the sharp end of bad government policy.  Picture: Joey Kelly

Neil Robertson says the poor are at the sharp end of bad government policy. Picture: Joey Kelly

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RENT arrears have soared since the “bedroom tax” was introduced, with 1500 more people now being plunged into debt than before.

New figures set to be debated at City Chambers today lay bare the short-term impact of the controversial welfare reforms on the Capital’s poorest citizens.

They reveal that the number of under-occupied council tenants facing rent arrears has risen from 969 to 2561 in just eight weeks since the bedroom tax came into force on April 1.

Nearly three-quarters – 72 per cent – of Edinburgh tenants affected by the changes are facing mounting debts from arrears, putting huge pressure on the city’s housing budget.

It has now emerged that around 70 per cent of rent from those properties affected by the changes – totalling £390,000 – has not been collected.

Anti-bedroom tax campaigner Neil Robertson, who suffers from muscular 
dystrophy and last week protested against the policy outside the Scottish Parliament, called for it to be scrapped.

“It doesn’t make any sense to let this continue,” he said. “I think the policy is very poor and the figures show that and it has driven a lot more people into debt.”

The council report, drafted by Alastair Maclean, director of corporate governance, also said it was “unlikely” registered social landlords would follow the city’s lead in opting not to evict tenants who fell behind with rent.

It warned the UK Government would cut housing benefit subsidy paid to local authorities as it deemed there was “inappropriate redesignation of properties”.

Betty Stevenson, convener of Edinburgh Tenants Federations, said the rent arrears figures were “unsurprising”.

She added: “The figures are made worse by the arrears that tenants had before the bedroom tax was implemented. It is clear that many tenants are really struggling to pay their rent because of this unfair and degrading policy, which we continue to oppose.”

John McArdle, a spokesman for Black Triangle Campaign, a pressure group that opposes the bedroom tax, told how many tenants were often “trapped” due to a dearth of adequate housing in Edinburgh.

He said: “It’s farcical to think people can move because the housing stock isn’t there in Edinburgh and the only other option is for people to move into private rented accommodation – but how are they going to do that?”

Councillor Ricky Henderson, convener for health and wellbeing, said: “Our predictions have come to pass – people aren’t able to make up the shortfall, can’t pay their rent and continue to accrue debt that isn’t going to go away. This ultimately affects our ability to deliver the housing service.”