Council’s box room rule to fight Bedroom Tax

Cammy Day. Picture: Neil Hanna
Cammy Day. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Box rooms will no longer be classed as bedrooms under a new plan aimed at helping out tenants hit by the controversial bedroom tax.

A new policy set to be approved by the city council will see any space measuring less than 50sq ft that has no ventilation and lets in no “natural light” redesignated so that it is not considered a bedroom for letting purposes.

Steve Burgess. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Steve Burgess. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

The move is designed to partially relieve the financial pressure on Edinburgh residents caused by the bedroom tax.

Under the controversial welfare reforms brought in by the government at Westminster, social tenants deemed to have more bedrooms than they need have had their housing benefit reduced since April.

A review of 257 pre-1919 ­tenements across the Capital that have two or more bedrooms will also be carried out to determine which properties have box rooms that do not meet the new guidelines.

Tenants would then not be charged extra rent for having the additional box room.

The proposal, which it is estimated will cost the council £172,000 a year, will go before the health, wellbeing and housing committee on Tuesday.

City housing vice-convener Councillor Cammy Day said: “We are trying to help people affected by the bedroom tax.

“We have come under massive pressure with the bedroom tax, so this is one way of trying to help those who are feeling the effects of it. This policy is financially hurting the people of Edinburgh and is costing the council millions of pounds. It is the Tory-Lib Dems fault. We urge them to rethink the policy.”

North Ayrshire is the only other council in Scotland that has a minimum size for rooms to be classed as bedrooms. The policy will allow council tenants to apply for a review of their property size.

The number of council tenants facing rent arrears soared from 969 to 2561 in just eight weeks after the bedroom tax came into force on April 1.

Edinburgh Tenants Federation vice-convener Maureen Jarvis said of the box room policy: “I think this is a good idea as it will help tenants cope with the bedroom tax, but the number of properties affected will be minimal.”

Cllr Steve Burgess, housing spokesman for the Greens, said the council’s move on reclassifying box rooms was welcome, but added: “What I was hoping was we might be able to identify a means of redesignating all property that would allow relief from the bedroom tax.

“I’m concerned as to whether we’ve explored all avenues in that respect and I’m going to seek reassurances we have done that. It seems to me there may be more we can do.”

The local authority has investigated redesignating all properties to have two public rooms rather than one in a bid to dodge the bedroom tax.

However, a report said the move would cost £672 a year for each of the 15,000 affected homes, meaning rental income would be slashed by 20 per cent and would hurt the city’s long-term housing plans.

Conservative Group leader Cllr Cameron Rose said: “While it’s desirable to improve the minimum standard of bedroom accommodation in the long term, this proposal seems to funnel £172,000 worth of taxpayers’ money to reduce rents, but doesn’t appear to help those who are already occupying such a bedroom.”

UN to probe human rights impact of controversial charge

A SENIOR United Nations official will visit Scotland to investigate the impact of the controversial bedroom tax on human rights.

Raquel Rolnik – the UN’s special rapporteur on housing – will carry out a two-week tour of cities across Britain, meeting tenants affected by the policy. She will also discuss the tax, which has hit the pockets of low-income households, with officials, campaigners and academics.

SNP MSP Christina McKelvie welcomed the visit, saying: “It is encouraging that Westminster’s bedroom tax, which is an utterly inhumane and unjustifiable policy, is being examined by the United Nations in relation to a reported breach of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“It penalises disabled and economically deprived people for where they live when smaller alternatives are simply not available.”