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18/02/17 00:01

Benefit cap clarity needed

Ministers to discuss social security priorities with UK Government.

Communities, Social Security and Equalities Secretary Angela Constance will seek assurances from the UK Government that they will not reduce the benefits of claimants in Scotland when the Scottish Government abolishes the bedroom tax.

It comes ahead of a meeting with the Department of Work and Pensions in London on Monday.

Ms Constance will stress the abolition of the bedroom tax cannot be counted as benefit income when it comes to the UK Government’s benefit cap as it will penalise people by having other UK benefit payments clawed back.

The principle of no claw back for Scottish Government benefits was agreed in the Smith Commission and the financial agreement covering the Scotland Act 2016, and ministers are concerned that when the bedroom tax is abolished in Scotland, the UK Government will treat this as additional income for a household and impose the cap.

The Scottish Government will provide £47 million next year to mitigate the bedroom tax imposed by the UK Government, ensuring no one needs to lose out because of it, and will seek to abolish it as soon as practically possible. Ms Constance said:

“The bedroom tax is an abhorrent charge which makes the lives of those already struggling to make ends meet even harder – there’s no place for that in a modern Scotland. I make no secret of the fact we want to abolish it but what we also don’t want to see is anyone’s benefits being reduced again because by abolishing bedroom tax they end up over threshold for the UK benefit cap.

“It is not acceptable for the Scottish Government to give with one hand only for the UK Government to take away with the other - when these powers were transferred to Scotland there was a commitment there would be no claw back of benefits as a result of payment or eligibility decisions made by the Scottish Government. We need cast iron commitments from the UK Government that they will abide by those principles and that people won’t be penalised further.

“This issue has been raised with UK ministers on a number of occasions and I look forward to discussing this further at Monday’s meeting.”

Background

More than 70,000 households in Scotland benefit because the Scottish Government mitigates the bedroom tax. It is estimated that the new lower UK Benefit cap affects 5000 households in Scotland, and more are likely to reach the cap when the bedroom tax is abolished.

Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman and Employability Minister Jamie Hepburn will also attend the meeting in London.