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Scrap the bedroom tax, MPs urge the Coalition

A COMMITTEE of backbench MPs has called for the abolition of the so-called bedroom tax.

PROTESTS: The reduction in housing benefit for tenants deemed to have extra bedrooms has been met with outrage. Picture Stewart Attwood
PROTESTS: The reduction in housing benefit for tenants deemed to have extra bedrooms has been met with outrage. Picture Stewart Attwood

In a report published today, Westminster's Scottish Affairs Committee says cuts to housing benefit for tenants deemed to have surplus rooms should be reversed.

MPs on the Labour-dominated committee also recommend a series of measures to mitigate the impact of the cuts while abolition "is being considered" by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition.

The proposals, set out in an interim report on the impact of the bedroom tax in Scotland, are set to reopen the bitter row at Holyrood over the Scottish Government's response.

Finance Secretary John ­Swinney has been accused of doing too little to support ­struggling tenants while using the issue to campaign for independence.

The Scottish Affairs Committee report says: "We see it [the bedroom tax] as overwhelmingly being a budget cut suffered by those in greatest need.

"Its stated objectives can better be achieved by other methods.

"We believe that the promoters of the bedroom tax fail to ­understand that social housing provides homes, often for a lifetime, rather than simply units of accommodation which can be treated as commodities."

As a first step towards abolition, it calls on the UK Government to reverse the benefit cuts immediately for tenants who cannot find a "reasonable alternative" home to move to.

Disabled people who need a room to store or use medical equipment should also be exempt, MPs say.

They insist disabled people and children of secondary school age should be entitled to a bedroom of their own under the occupancy rules.

The report recommends a shake-up of the system of ­discretionary housing payments disbursed by councils to help the worst-hit households.

It says the UK and Scottish governments should make longer-term allocations of Discretionary Housing Payment funding to local authorities.

The report was approved after Labour MPs outvoted Conservation and LibDem colleagues on the committee.

Committee chairman Ian Davidson, the Labour MP for ­Glasgow South West, said: "We have produced an interim report because some glaring flaws are already apparent and notwithstanding our call for the tax to be abolished, we wish to draw these faults to the Government's ­attention while it is conducting a review.

"We intend to explore more fully not only design flaws but also what can and should be done by the Scottish Government, social landlords and others to mitigate its effects on the vulnerable in Scotland."

Finance Secretary John ­Swinney has made £20 million available for councils to allocate as discretionary housing payments this year and next.

However, he has faced calls to explore further measures that could mitigate the impact of the bedroom tax completely. The cost is estimated at £50m per year in Scotland.

Angus Robertson, the SNP's Westminster leader, claimed the bedroom tax "would have been consigned to history" had more Labour MPs opposed it in a Commons vote last month.

He added: "The Bedroom Tax is a deeply unfair policy which will be scrapped in an independent Scotland.

"One of the most significant gains of independence is that Scotland will have full control over its welfare system.

"That means only with a Yes vote will we finally be able to get rid of the unjust bedroom tax and have a welfare state that reflects the views and votes of the people of Scotland."

A Scottish Government ­spokesman said: "We are already doing all we can with the powers we currently have to mitigate the worst impact of those decisions, including the provision of £40m in discretionary housing payments to help those people who are struggling the most."

About 80,000 tenants in ­Scotland have seen their housing benefit reduced. Benefit has been cut by 14% for those deemed to one extra room and by 25% for those deemed to have two extra rooms. Scotland's councils are facing arrears of £3m as a result of the bedroom tax.

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