Thousands of households in Scotland struggling to pay rent due to austerity
A total of 3,320 families in Scotland claiming help with housing costs are £64 a week worse off because of UK welfare cuts, new data from the Scottish Government has revealed.
Figures from the third annual report of Welfare Reform found that about 460,000 working-age households have been affected by a £300 million cut in welfare spending in Scotland by the UK Government.
Since the roll-out of Universal Credit, rent arrears in Scotland have increased and as of March 2019, arrears on all council properties was £74m, up £9m on the previous year.
The Scottish Government has spent more than £63m on discretionary housing payments to top up benefit shortfalls and help people pay their rent so they don’t run up arrears.
The report’s updated analysis on Local Housing Allowance suggests that only 11 out of 90 LHA rates in Scotland are set at the level allowing families to rent a home in the 30th percentile of the rental market.
Whilst the situation has improved for 11 of the 90 Scottish LHA rates since the previous report, 36 of the rates have seen a reduction in the proportion of the market that is available, with four areas having access to less than 5% of the market.
The share of the rental market that under 35s can access within the LHA rate has decreased in all areas since the first analysis has been published by the Scottish Government in 2018.
As at March 2019, rent arrears on all council properties in Scotland was £74m, up £9m (14.0%) on last year, representing 6.2% of Standard Rental Income from these properties. These arrears have been rising steadily year on year since March 2013.
The housing revenue account shows at 31 March 2017 that in the five council areas where UC full service had rolled out in 2016/17 rent arrears had increased by an average of 14.1% compared with an average of 4.1% across the remaining councils.
Housing minister Kevin Stewart said: “UK Government welfare cuts are squeezing more families into poverty and leaving them struggling to afford appropriate accommodation.
“As the private rental market becomes increasingly less accessible to those on low income, cutting housing benefit by £64 per week for some families puts them at risk of homelessness. The UK Government must act urgently to reverse these cuts and support those renting in the private sector.
“It is not feasible for the Scottish Government to completely mitigate the impacts of UK cuts but we will do all we can to support families through the Scottish Welfare Fund and discretionary housing payments and by protecting people against the bedroom tax. We could do so much more to help lift families out of poverty if Scotland had full control of welfare policy.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “Since 2011 we have provided around £1bn to local authorities to make Discretionary Housing Payments, and in 2020/2021 we will make an additional £40m available.
“The UK government continues to spend around £95bn a year on working-age benefits. Meanwhile, Scotland has significant welfare powers and can top-up existing benefits, pay discretionary payments and create entirely new benefits altogether.”