Welsh government urged to follow Scottish lead on ‘bedroom tax’

Darren Millar
Darren Millar

An influential assembly committee has called on the Welsh Government to look again at whether it should follow the Scottish model of ‘bedroom tax’ mitigation.

The public accounts committee said the Labour-led administration should do more to counter the effect of policies such as the bedroom tax on vulnerable people, with more welfare changes being introduced in the coming years.

The committee found that of recent welfare changes, the removal of the spare room subsidy – dubbed the bedroom tax – had been the most significant in Wales.

While the Scottish Government mitigated the effects of the bedroom tax by handing out discretionary housing payments (DHPs), the Welsh Government chose not to. Instead it prioritised investment in the construction of smaller properties and the provision of advice services.

During its inquiry, the committee heard claims that hundreds of larger homes in the social housing sector were being left empty because of the bedroom tax and millions of pounds were being wasted because disabled people had to move out of properties that had been adapted for their needs.

Published yesterday, a report from the committee called ‘Responding to Welfare Reform in Wales’ said strong leadership is needed to protect Welsh citizens from the impact of UK-wide welfare changes.

It follows an inquiry into what impact welfare changes have had on social housing tenants in Wales.

Darren Millar, chair of the committee, said: “Bringing down the overall cost of welfare has been a priority for the Westminster government and has resulted in fundamental changes to the benefits system with strong implications for the housing sector in Wales.”

“Ultimately, when service delivery is disrupted by political disagreements or failure to collaborate or respond quickly enough, it is social tenants and the more vulnerable in society who suffer,” he said.

“But regardless of whether changes to the welfare system are supported by Welsh public bodies or not, they still have a responsibility to adapt to those changes and to do so efficiently whilst still serving the public to the best of their ability.”

Community Housing Cymru, the body which represents over 70 not-for-profit housing associations and community mutuals in Wales, provided evidence to the committee and welcomed its recommendation that Welsh Government should provide longer-term funding support for the much-needed advice services sector across Wales.

Sioned Hughes, director of policy and external affairs at Community Housing Cymru, added: “Although housing associations, along with our Your Benefits are Changing (YBAC) team, are already playing a major role in mitigating the impact of welfare reform through financial inclusion activities and advice services, more resources are needed to ensure that our most vulnerable tenants have access to the advice services they need, particularly following the summer budget announcements.

“It’s essential that housing associations remain strong and viable in order to support tenants, and the biggest challenges are yet to come with the continued implementation of Universal Credit, freeze on working-age benefits, and the reduced benefit cap of £20,000 affecting over 7,000 families in Wales according to CHC’s estimates. With this in mind, it is of paramount importance that we secure long-term funding for our YBAC money advice service. YBAC is an invaluable service and resource which has already helped over 100,000 people, and we will work with members and partner organisations to ensure that tenants receive the right advice and support.

“Wales is disproportionately affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ (20.4 per cent of social housing tenants are affected compared to 15.3 per cent in Scotland), and any support provided by Welsh Government in this area would be welcomed. The sector provides affordable housing to those in greatest need in our communities, and further investment is needed to ensure that the most vulnerable have a home. We welcome the investment already made by Welsh Government to mitigate the impact of welfare reform, but there is a lack of right housing in the right places. Housing supply is a huge issue across Wales and we would highly recommended the need for continued investment into the development of new homes.”

You can read the full report here.

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