Scottish Government fails to reach agreement with Westminster over ‘bedroom tax’

Holyrood (1)Scottish ministers have yet to reach an agreement with the UK government over a potential reduction in the benefits of claimants in Scotland when the Scottish Government abolishes the ‘bedroom tax’.

As part of new social security powers being transferred to Holyrood, the Scottish Government plans to abolish the bedroom tax and reinstate housing benefit for 18-21 year olds, which the UK government plans to remove from April.

In a meeting with the Department of Work and Pensions earlier this week, communities, social security and equalities secretary, Angela Constance, stressed that 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.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Ms Constance said: “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.”

However, following the meeting between the two governments, social security minister Jeane Freeman said the Scottish Government has not been able to get agreement at Westminster for the benefit cap not to include a bedroom tax element.

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament yesterday where she also responded to Research Scotland’s independent report into the country’s social security consultation, Ms Freeman said there is a “technical way” that both governments can adopt their “opposing commitments” but the UK government does not agree.

She added that the Scottish Government “will continue to pursue these issues” with the UK government so that it can exercise its new powers to “build that fairer, transparent and person centred social security system we are committed to”.

Responding to the social security consultation, Ms Freeman said that the overwhelming majority of respondents backed the principles of fairness, dignity and respect being built into the agency and promised that “the human right to social security” will be on the face of the upcoming Bill which will be introduced to parliament in June.

She said: “I have made clear the transfer of these powers will not be a simple inheritance and instead we will work in partnership with the people of Scotland to do things in a different way – one that is fairer, more inclusive, dignified and more respectful. But we must also make sure that the transition of powers is safe and secure, and we get a system that is right for Scotland.

“That partnership is already paying dividends with the consultation responses helping to shape the look and work of Scotland’s agency.

“There was clear support for our commitment to a rights based approach and continuing Scotland’s longstanding tradition of support for human rights, which is why we will enshrine these principles in the new system’s legislation.

“We are taking this further by including a charter within the Bill – it strengthens our guarantee by going beyond warm words and creating a binding contract between the system and the people who use it.

“I will also announce further details on our experience panels in the next few weeks, and these will see us work with people who use the current system to design, build and refine a new and better model.”

Citizens Advice Scotland has welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitment to putting people at the centre of the new social security system and to actively involve those who have had direct experience of it.

Policy manager Keith Dryburgh said: “The goal of this process must be to create a fair, equal and responsive social security system that gives support to people who need it, when they need it, and we are pleased to see the clear value placed on advice and advocacy services.”

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