Housing payment cap powers to be transferred

Posted on 03/05/2014 by

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More help for 72,000 Scottish households 

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Thousands of Scots families can be given more ‘Bedroom Tax’ assistance following discussions between the Westminster and Scottish governments. The UK government has offered to transfer power over the housing payment cap to Holyrood, it was announced yesterday.

Housing help for people on benefits – known as Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) – is currently reserved to Westminster and administered by local authorities in Scotland. This power will now transfer to Scotland, however, and the Scottish Government is now urging Westminster to transfer these powers as soon as possible.

The Scottish Government has already spent up to the previous legal limit in order to mitigate the effects of the ‘Bedroom Tax’. Once the powers are transferred, a total of £50 million can be invested to help the 72,000 households in Scotland who are suffering from the effects.

Welcoming the news, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:

“We had already set aside the money to be able to help every household in Scotland affected by the ‘Bedroom Tax’ – once we have the powers, we will be able to use it and provide vital assistance to thousands of hard-pressed Scots.

“I am delighted that in future anyone who has been affected by this unfair policy will receive the help they need and would encourage them to contact their Local Authority to apply for assistance through the DHP scheme.

“We will never turn our back on people in need, and I am pleased to finally be able to get on and help people. But the fact is that this decision has taken far too long. We have been pressing since January for Iain Duncan Smith to remove this cap – and at last Westminster has seen sense and have given us what we requested. We will now work to ensure the law is changed as quickly as possible.

“The DHP scheme is the only legal way – under the powers that Scotland currently has – to provide regular financial payments to people on housing benefit. But the only way to get rid of the ‘Bedroom Tax’ for good is through the powers of an independent Scottish Parliament.

“We know that Scots want welfare decisions to be made and taken by the Scottish Parliament. The ‘Bedroom Tax’ has been rejected by people right across Scotland, yet is still being imposed on us by the UK Government.

“With independence we will have the opportunity to create a welfare system that really works for us.”

However the UK Government says that their willingness to transfer the power to set the cap on Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) in Scotland demonstrates a ‘commitment to taking a pragmatic approach to devolution and to engaging intensely with local authorities in Scotland.’

In a letter to Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland Office Minister David Mundell has offered to transfer the power to the Scottish Government through a Section 63 Order which will require the agreement of the UK and Scottish Governments before being approved by both the UK and Scottish Parliaments.

If the Scottish Government chooses to accept this offer, it will have the flexibility to pass on more funding from its existing block grant to local authorities – it will be up to to the Scottish Government and local authorities how they choose to allocate their money.

As things currently stand, DHPs can be used by local authorities across Great Britain to provide additional funding for people in receipt of housing benefit who need extra support. At present each local authority must operate within a formula-based spending cap set by the Department for Work and Pensions. The proposal from the UK Government would mean that the Scottish Government would have the power to set the DHP cap for Scottish local authorities in future.

Mr Mundell said: “I have completed a programme of visits to all Scottish local authorities and believe that transferring this power to the Scottish Government is the correct thing to do.

“The UK Government believes in taking a pragmatic approach to devolution and we believe in a United Kingdom that gives Scotland the best of both worlds. I hope that officials from both governments will now be able to take this forward.”

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