Labour and Scottish National Party-led Edinburgh Council has said it is forced to implement a policy which rejects applicants for discretionary hardship payments to help with the ‘bedroom tax’ if they spend too much on ‘luxuries’.
In an interview in Inside Housing magazine, Cammy Day, vice-convenor of the health, well-being and housing committee, told the magazine “As a result of a policy imposed by the Conservative Party we are having to do this, otherwise our entire DHP allocation would have been spent in the first three months [of the financial year]. It is a horrible position to be in, having to make a judgement on people’s lifestyle choices.”
The council is the first in the UK to implement a policy of closely examining claimant’s expenditure. Part of the assessment process is for claimants to fill in a form detailing expenditure on satellite television, mobile phone contracts, and ‘general entertainment’. Edinburgh Council also include columns for alcohol and cigarettes, which the council states could be a deciding factor which could affect the decision of whether or not to grant the payment.
Many councils in the UK have seen a huge rise in those seeking additional financial help to cope with the effects of the ‘bedroom tax’. With cuts to their housing benefit, other government cuts, price increases (especially the unjustifiably high price of energy), and a national shortage of one-bedroomed accommodation, many families are forced into a very difficult situation.
Stuart Macdonald, editor of Inside Housing, told the Independent “This shows the extremes councils are being forced into due to the increased demand for DHPs caused by the government’s welfare reforms. Although the amount available for DHPs has been increased by government, this is already proving insufficient and it is inevitable that other councils will have no choice but to follow Edinburgh’s lead.”
A concern is that as council budgets become tighter, how far will they have to go in assessing the suitability of an applicant in the future, and who will decide what ‘luxury’ expenditure is and what is not? Will we see a time when those receiving benefits will be subjected to food rationing and so on?
People who are on benefits have to cope with a tight budget, and it may mean giving-up things that they once took for granted – but it is their decision if they choose to spend on something at the expense of something else. Benefit payments have already been calculated as being the minimum someone needs to live on, and any additional financial stress is bound to have a significant effect – especially something like the bedroom tax which takes away a significant percentage of a person’s benefit payment.
Perhaps the government won’t be content until all those on benefits have to sit around one candle in the middle of winter eating tins of cold baked beans and children become street ragamuffins searching bins.
Child Poverty Action Group’s head of policy, Imran Hussain, said: “It’s really important we do not lose sight of the fact there are children in many of the households affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ who could be badly affected if the family ends up being made homeless for rent arrears. Local authorities aren’t going to be helping families or themselves in the long run if they withhold much-needed support.”