City chiefs welcome cash to cover ‘bedroom tax’ arrears

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CITY leaders today welcomed extra cash from the Scottish Government to help tackle the worst effects of the so-called bedroom tax.

Housing leader Cammy Day said the announcement by Finance Secretary John Swinney could help plug a projected £2 million black hole in the council’s coffers resulting from rent arrears caused by the controversial measure.

Mr Swinney told the Scottish Parliament yesterday that he was making available an additional £20m for councils across Scotland this year to boost discretionary payments to tenants hit by the cut in housing benefit for people with a spare room.

No details have been decided about how the money will be allocated, but Councillor Day said: “I have asked our officials to contact the Scottish Government to find out exactly what this means for Edinburgh and bid for as much as we can.

“This will help to relieve the pressure on our tenants and allow us to continue our housing investment programme of getting our stock up to standard and building much-needed affordable homes.”

He said rent arrears in the first two months of the bedroom tax had reached £400,000, raising the prospect of a £2m shortfall in revenue by the end of the year and potentially forcing the council to rethink its investment plans.

“Knowing we will be getting some more money hopefully means we will be able to continue with our future investment.”

But George Lamb of Greater Leith Against The Cuts said: “A sum of £20m split among all councils in Scotland is just a drop in the ocean.”

He said the council had already rejected a Green bid to use reserves to top up discretionary payments.

“There is no guarantee this will go where it is needed, More money sitting in a bank account doesn’t necessarily help.”

Scottish Labour finance spokesman Iain Gray said Mr Swinney had found “less than half the funds needed for the bedroom tax this year” and made no provision for the next two years.

But Mr Swinney said there were UK legal limits on payments and he had not budgeted for more cash in future years because he wanted to maximise the pressure on Westminster to end the tax.

iswanson@edinburghnews.com

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