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Council to press for exemption from spare room subsidy provisions

2nd September 2013

The Highland Council is to write to Highland MPs to seek their support for a change to the spare room subsidy which would see all communities with a population of 3,000 or less excluded from the provisions in recognition of the absence of the appropriate housing stock to accommodate tenants who wish to move to a smaller house.

Councillors have been encouraged by concessions being made by the UK Government on Welfare Reform in the wake of strong representations highlighting flaws in the legislation and are seeking the continuing support of Highland MPs to press the case on the spare room subsidy in Westminster with Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform. A meeting of the Councils Welfare Reform Working Group and MPs is planned for Friday 11 October.

Councillors have also welcomed funding from the UK Government of 987,115 for discretionary housing payments for this financial year - an increase of 771,009 on the original funding allocation - which will help to ease the short term financial position for many tenants affected by the spare room subsidy. However, the Council is to seek confirmation that this level of funding will be maintained in future years.

The Councils Finance Housing and Resources Committee was given an update on the Highland impact of Welfare Reform, including the Benefit Gap and the introduction of Universal Credit, which will roll 6 benefits into one with the aim of simplying the benefit system and ensuring people are better off in work.

Members were advised that the total number of tenants in arrears in the first quarter of this financial year was 1,175, an increase of 451, and that the value of arrears has increased to 269,687, a rise of 96,196.

Councillor Dave Fallows, Chair of the Finance Housing and Resources Committee, said: There is no doubt that Welfare Reform, and in particular the spare room subsidy, is having a significant impact on our tenants and we are seeing this reflected in the number in arrears.

The trouble in the Highlands is that we do not have sufficient capacity to accommodate those tenants who wish to downsize to avoid the penalty of losing housing benefit through living in a house with a spare room.

I have been encouraged by the recommendations of the UK Governments Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which is recommending that settlements of fewer than 3,000 people should be excluded from the under-occupancy policy.

I will now be writing to our MPs for their support for this concession and also the Minister for Welfare Reform to urge that the Government confirms this as policy. This would be a welcome boost in rural communities, such as the Highlands.


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