Bedroom tax 'impacting on homeless'

A quarter of housing associations believe welfare reforms that have been branded the "bedroom tax" have impacted on their ability to rehouse homeless people, a new report revealed.

Two out of three housing associations have seen an increase in the number of tenants looking for a transfer to another property due to the 'bedroom tax'

A survey by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) found two out of three associations had seen an increase in the number of tenants looking for a transfer to another property after housing benefit changes meant those deemed to have extra rooms had their benefit payments reduced.

A quarter (26%) of associations surveyed said they "believe the increased number of downsizing requests have impacted upon their ability to rehouse homeless households".

The SFHA questioned a total of 42 housing associations about whether there was a link between welfare reform and homelessness in Scotland in October 2013.

Its report stated "After implementation of the 'bedroom tax', two in three housing associations have experienced an increase in the number of requests for transfers, but many qualified that this is only a slight increase because for the most part tenants want to stay in their homes.

"However, 26% of respondents believe the increased number of downsizing requests have impacted upon their ability to re-house homeless households."

The SFHA added that "a round a fifth of housing associations reported having had homeless households refuse an offer of housing due to the 'bedroom tax'".

Meanwhile some housing associations reported having seen an increase in the number of homeless households asking not to be considered for larger properties.

The survey also found 72% of housing associations had had to help homeless people try to obtain " essential items, such as carpets, a cooker, a fridge or a bed, and were unable to obtain one or more of these items prior to re-housing".

In addition o ne in 10 housing associations reported having experience of homeless applicants refusing an offer of housing within the last six months as they did not have all these essential items.

SFHA policy manager David Ogilvie said: " We are seriously concerned about how welfare reforms are impacting upon homeless households taking up new tenancies. It's abundantly clear that the odds of these households being able to secure and sustain a suitable tenancy are being increasingly stacked against them.

"Despite social landlords' best efforts to provide as much help as they can to new tenants - be that in terms of making sure tenants have the basic essentials or the right advice and support - our research shows that the cumulative impact of the 'bedroom tax', benefit sanctions and problems accessing financial assistance at times of crisis may drive up homelessness in Scotland."

Scotland's Housing and Welfare Minister Margaret Burgess said: "The number of people being pushed into poverty in Scotland by welfare reform is simply not acceptable in a country as prosperous as ours. Benefit delays, benefit sanctions and low incomes are all having a detrimental impact on the people of Scotland.

"Only with the full powers of independence can we create a welfare system that suits the needs of the people of Scotland. Decisions about social security should be taken by those who live and work here."

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "Our reforms are essential for returning fairness to the welfare system but we recognise some people may need additional help. We have provided £345 million to local councils over the past two years in Discretionary Housing Payments to support vulnerable people, including £31 million to Scotland.

"There is no evidence that welfare reforms are leading to an increase in homelessness.

"Additionally we transferred the funding for local welfare assistance to the Scottish Government. They are best placed to provide short-term, emergency help and £24 million was provided this year to help them do so."