Saturday, 16 February 2013

Glasgow Advice Agency calls for local authority guidance to enable tenants to mitigate bedroom tax

As reported in The Herald (Saturday, 16 February 2013) the Glasgow Advice Agency (GAA) has obtained the opinion of senior counsel and understands that the meaning of 'bedroom' for the purposes of the Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2012 is not legally defined, and that, importantly, the definition is not static or fixed in time. GAA funds and manages free financial inclusion, welfare rights and advice services across the South and North East of Glasgow. Its principal members include GLC, Govan Money Matters Advice Centre and GEMAP Scotland.

Essentially, GAA understand that it is a matter for each local authority as 'the relevant authority' under the regulations to determine what is and is not a 'bedroom', and that the actual use of a room by a particular household will be critical in deciding whether that room is a bedroom or not. Accordingly, GAA believes it is possible for tenants to change the use of what might be regarded as a 'spare bedroom' in terms of the regulations into something that need not be counted as such, and not be subject to the housing benefit under-occupancy deductions (bedroom tax). In that regard, the guidance and approach of individual local authorities will be critical.

In particular, this approach is of obvious application for disabled tenants in Scotland or the UK who may use a 'spare bedroom' for the purpose of therapy, storing wheelchairs, medical equipment or to undertake medical procedures. Other tenants may be able to avoid the bedroom tax too. The critical factor is there is a need for formal guidance and then advice to ensure an uptake of that guidance to help tenants mitigate against the bedroom tax.

"GAA believes there is a key role for the Scottish Government to take a lead in this matter and provide formal guidance for local authorities to enable a consistent approach and facilitate best practice across Scotland."

At present, 95,000 households in Scotland are affected from 1 April 2013, with a cost implication in lost rent to councils and housing associations in the sum of around £50m per annum in Scotland. GAA believe the issuing of guidance and providing advice could enable many of those affected by the bedroom tax with a means to lawfully mitigate against it by using a spare room for a purpose that would not be regarded as a bedroom in law.


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