Bedroom tax: Westminster warned against cutting benefits

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Scottish Government seeks "cast iron" commitments from Westminster benefits won't be clawed back 

20th February 2017 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

Scottish ministers are demanding assurance from Westminster claimants in Scotland won’t see their benefits reduced when the Scottish Government abolishes the bedroom tax.

Social Security and Equalities Secretary Angela Constance made the call ahead of a meeting with the Department of Work and Pensions in London.

The principle of no claw back for Scottish Government benefits was agreed in the Smith Commission and the financial agreement covering the Scotland Act 2016.

Ministers are concerned that when the bedroom tax is abolished in Scotland, the UK government will treat this as additional income for a household and impose the cap.

Constance will stress the abolition of the bedroom tax cannot be counted as benefit income when it comes to the UK government’s benefit cap as it will penalise people by having other UK benefit payments clawed back.

The Scottish Government will provide £47 million next year to mitigate the bedroom tax and has pledged to abolish it as soon as practically possible. 

“The bedroom tax is an abhorrent charge which makes the lives of those already struggling to make ends meet even harder – there’s no place for that in a modern Scotland. I make no secret of the fact we want to abolish it but what we also don’t want to see is anyone’s benefits being reduced again because by abolishing bedroom tax they end up over threshold for the UK benefit cap.

“It is not acceptable for the Scottish Government to give with one hand only for the UK government to take away with the other - when these powers were transferred to Scotland there was a commitment there would be no claw back of benefits as a result of payment or eligibility decisions made by the Scottish Government.

"We need cast iron commitments from the UK government that they will abide by those principles and that people won’t be penalised further.

The bedroom tax is an abhorrent charge which makes the lives of those already struggling to make ends meet even harder - Angela Constance

More than 70,000 households in Scotland benefit because the Scottish Government mitigates the bedroom tax. It is estimated that the new lower UK benefit cap affects 5000 households in Scotland, and more are likely to reach the cap when the bedroom tax is abolished.

Social security minister Jeane Freeman and employability minister Jamie Hepburn also attend the meeting in London, the actual outcome of which was unclear as TFN went to press.

A spokesperson for the Anti Cuts Alliance said: “As we have seen through bitter experience, the UK government is well versed at giving with one hand and taking with the other. Scottish ministers are right to seek a guarantee there will be no attempt at clawing back these “gains” from claimants."

Meanwhile it has been revealed in a letter to a Green MSP, that the UK government minister behind the announced closures of up to 23 Jobcentre Plus sites across Scotland, has refused to visit Greater Glasgow, the area set to lose the majority of the offices.

Green MSP, Ross Greer, invited the Minister of State for the Department of Work and Pensions, Damian Hinds MP to walk from the soon-to-be closed Alexandria job centre to the nearest alternative in Dumbarton - a one hour walk, with the route going through a field.

In his reply, Hinds said: “I appreciate your offer to visit West Scotland. Unfortunately, as you may be aware, I visited Scotland recently and will be unable to do so again in the near future due to parliamentary and other diary commitments.”