Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Scottish Housing Association to pay bills

EAST Lothian Housing Association (ELHA) has announced it is to help pay the ‘bedroom tax’ for its most at risk tenants. 

Following the introduction of the Underoccupancy Charge, more commonly known as the ‘bedroom tax’, ELHA has developed an Assistance Scheme to help tenants affected by the changes. The Scheme, known as the ELHA Assistance Scheme, or EAS, will see arrears caused by underoccupancy charges written off for qualifying tenants. Alistair Sharp from the Govan Law Centre (GLC) said he hopes other housing providers consider adopting the model.

The EAS is designed to avoid conflicts with the Association’s allocations policy, and also cases of severe hardship. For example, where a couple require separate bedrooms for medical reasons or because of a disability, the Underoccupancy Charge calculation does not consider an extra bedroom essential, whereas ELHA’s allocation policy does – so a tenant could be told that they have to pay the Charge, but if they then applied to ELHA for rehousing to a smaller house, that request would be refused because the Association would not consider a smaller house to be suitable for their needs. 

The EAS contains 'Standard' and 'Discretionary' grounds on which charges can be written off. To claim, tenants need to demonstrate that they have been unsuccessful in an application for Discretionary Housing Payment, and that their circumstances are covered by the Scheme, but otherwise no lengthy application or assessment process is involved.

The East Lothian Housing Association Chief Executive, Martin Pollhammer, said:
'The so-called bedroom tax is wrong and should be withdrawn – it is as simple as that. But at the moment, it exists, so we have to deal with it, we cannot just ignore it. We feel that the EAS is a balanced and measured approach to helping our tenants deal with its worst effects, but it is also useful to us – firstly in preserving the standards we have in the way we assess the minimum amount of space a household needs, but secondly, trying to collect payments from people who patently have no means to pay them is also a waste of our time, money and resources, so is not in our best interests as a charitable organisation.'

Alistair Sharp from the Govan Law Centre added:
'Although we are campaigning for no evictions because of, and ultimately the abolition of, the "bedroom tax", we very much welcome ELHA’s approach – it is more than just a step in the right direction, it shows an organisation with a commitment to the wellbeing of its tenants, and especially to those made vulnerable by the bedroom tax. We feel this is a model that other housing providers in Scotland should consider adopting.'

News item from Sylvia Wilson on her HUT Newsletter.

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