April 2013 saw the introduction of changes to housing benefit which were dubbed the ?bedroom tax?. Over the course of the last 14 months our blogs have provided information on the introduction of these rules, the challenges to them and the cases which have been decided by tribunals. So is this Bedroom Tax, the final chapter?
During the last year, the Scottish government complained that they were being prevented from dealing with the impact of the bedroom tax by the rules which affected Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP).
DHP is a fund available to local authorities which they can use to assist any person with housing costs. Each year the UK government would set a limit on DHP which would be provided to councils from Westminster. The rules on DHP funding then allowed the devolved Scottish government to add to the DHP fund but only to the extent of contributing one and a half times the total grant made by Westminster.
In 2013/14, the DHP grant from Westminster was approximately ?15 million. That meant the Scottish government could only add approximately ?22.5 million.
The Scottish government had said they would be willing to top up the DHP fund to ?50 million if they were allowed to do so. That sum would have allowed local authorities to make grants to every person affected by the bedroom tax.
On Friday 2 May, the Westminster government announced that they were now willing to grant further powers to the Scottish government and to remove the cap on the Scottish contribution to DHP.
At first glance this seems to be very good news. It seems to be exactly what the Scottish government wanted. They will now have the power to set aside whatever funds they deem necessary to cover the bedroom tax.
However the bedroom tax has not been abolished.
If you were being very cynical, it could be argued the UK government have called the Scottish government?s bluff. Westminster is not committing any additional monies but is leaving it to the discretion of the Scottish government to make appropriate budgetary decisions.
It will be interesting to see how the Scottish government reacts to this news. Will they confirm that they will top up the DHP fund every year? Will they suggest that in times of budgetary constraints, the decisions can only be made on an annual basis?
As a famous philosopher once said,?we live in interesting times?.
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