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‘Bedroom tax’ help plan is welcomed
THE Government has signed off on a controversial scheme allowing Swindon Council to use cash normally reserved for council homes to set up a back-up fund for those hardest hit by the bedroom tax.
Housing Minister Mark Prisk MP has agreed to allow the council to use £420,000 of its housing revenue account – the money the council receives in rent from council tenants – to help those tenants who are struggling financially due to the Government-imposed cut in housing benefit.
In April, claimants of working age, living in the social rented sector, who were deemed to have one spare bedroom, lost 14 per cent of the benefit (on average £12 a week) and those with two or more spare bedrooms lost 25 per cent (on average £21.81 a week).
Councils can normally only spend their rental income on housing, but Coun Russell Holland, the former cabinet member for One Swindon, Localities and housing, negotiated with the Government to obtain special permission to use less than one per cent of the HRA money to create this fund.
Coun Holland (Con, St Margaret and South Marston), now the cabinet member for finance, said: “It’s a first.
“Following what Swindon Council have done, the Govern-ment, has had enquiries from a number of councils across the country, and the Government has now written to all councils to say if they wanted to make an application to do the same thing they can do.”
The council already has £281,000 in Government funds in 2013/14 to help eligible social or private tenants who are struggling to pay their rents, but the extra £420,000 will be for council tenants only and will be spent once the £281,000 is used.
Coun Holland said: “There’s definitely been an increase in discretionary housing payments, but what it means is we’ve got greater flexibility as a council to assist tenants who might be in difficulties.”
The council says that the HRA achieved overall savings against the budget in excess of £1.6m in 2012/13, so the support move is affordable within current resources and will not affect existing 2013/14 capital or revenue budgets, which are used on housing stock.
Derek Fry, a member of Swindon Tenants Voice, said the scheme was using rental money to prop up the Government’s unfair welfare reforms, but he could see both sides of the argument on the use of the HRA money.
He said: “If you are unfortunate enough to be hit by the bedroom tax, the money will be a lifeline.
“But I can also see it from the other point of view. “That money has been paid by council tenants for their rent, which they would expect to be used quite rightly on repairs, and so on and so forth.”
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