Lack of small homes traps hundreds into benefit cut

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HUNDREDS of council tenants in the Capital face having their housing benefits cut because new rules penalise people for living in houses the Government thinks are “too big” for them – even though there are not enough smaller homes to go round.

Under Westminster’s welfare reforms, families with spare rooms will have their payments cut to encourage them to “downsize”.

But a study by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on how the reforms will affect Edinburgh says the Capital does not have enough homes to accommodate tenants switching properties to avoid the benefit cut.

An estimated 1100 council tenants in Edinburgh are in homes which could be deemed too large.

From April 2013, tenants with one spare room will lose up to 13 per cent of their housing benefit and those with two or more could lose 23 per cent.

The Cosla report quotes figures for 2009-10 showing 61.8 per cent of housing applicants in the Capital need a one-bedroom home but such properties make up just 28.6 per cent of the council’s housing stock.

The report says: “Initial analysis suggest that around one in 20 existing working age tenants are under-occupying council properties.”

Cosla suggests the Government should amend its plans and apply its under-occupancy rules only to houses with three or more bedrooms. “This would stop tenants who are unable to access smaller properties being penalised while there are no suitable properties available.”

Shelter Scotland has branded the benefit cuts for people with spare rooms “impractical and ineffective”.

It said ministers had not responded to the central argument that it was an unfair cut that would penalise people regardless of whether it was possible for them to find smaller accommodation.

A city council spokesman said: “Edinburgh has a larger proportion of two-bedroomed homes and many single people rent two-bedroom properties because there are not enough one-bedroom properties.”

He said a report last year estimated some 1100 council tenants were currently in homes which may be deemed “too large” for them, but pointed out this was a snapshot and numbers could vary on a daily basis.

City housing convener Paul Edie said housing assumptions in Scotland were different from England. “As a rule of thumb we don’t want one-bedroom houses, we want two-bedrooms because individuals become couples, who become families.”

He backed Cosla’s plea for the under-occupancy rule to be applied only to bigger properties.

Lothians Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale said: “Punishing tenants who are under-occupying through no fault of their own is simply not the answer. The UK Government needs to revisit this issue and only enforce it on properties with more than three bedrooms. If this doesn’t happen then Edinburgh will have to build more one-bedroom properties when the real need is for more family-sized homes.”