Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Jackie Baillie's Baldrickian Plan ... and the big lie it contains.

In response to Peter Bell's thoughtful comment I have done further research on DHP:

For 2013-14,the Scottish DHP allocation is £13.47m. Local authorities can top up their allocation by 150%. Legislation limits the total amount that can be spent on DHPs in any one year to 2.5 times the DWP allocation. Therefore, in 2013 -14 the maximum that could be spent in Scotland on DHPs would be £33.7m.

What Jackie Baillie's Bill is actually proposing is changing the Scottish Housing Act 2003 to remove under occupancy penalty arrears creating 'cause for eviction' due to non-payment of full rent. The proposed bill does nothing to address the real issue causing these arrears - the under occupancy penalty - but shift the burden onto the Landlord who can only issue a small claims order for the outstanding rental as a minor debt. In other words the Landlord has to stand the cost of the debt if they can not get an order for payment or the tenant can not pay for the reason of not just the under occupancy penalty reducing Housing Benefit but also because of reduced income due to cuts in DLA and other benefits as a direct result of the Welfare Reform Act 2012.

Under Ms Baillie's cunning plan you could not be evicted for the Under Occupancy Penalty portion of the default but you would have a small claims debt raised against you for payment. As has been demonstrated by a number of charities the proposed new system under the Welfare Reform Act (2012) will seek to reduce DLA and other related ill-health benefits under current ESA regulations and through the introduction of PIP. This leaves the Landlord with ever increasing rental arrears caused by the under occupancy penalty and a tenant with ever reducing ability to pay under the cuts to benefit imposed by PIP. A double whammy for Landlords and their tenants.

You do not have to be much of a thinker to work out this bill of Ms Baillie's is a piece of political shenanigans which is unsustainable in the long term because it neither deals with the problem (rental arrears) or the cause   (under occupancy penalty) or the long term implications on availability of rental housing other than current council funded schemes.

In other words Ms Baillie's claim of '£50 million would fix it' has no basis in either the current DHP rules nor in Ms Baillie's bill itself which, in effect, seeks to shift the rent arrears predominantly onto the social housing sector (aka the Councils and the Council Taxpayers) as a debt unlikely to ever be repaid, given the nature of the clients, the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and the recent announcement of a further £25 billion cut in the DWP's budget starting in 2015.

So in fact I am correct to state that putting Ms Baillie's '£50 million' into DHP would require the Scottish Parliament to break the Scotland Act's provisions for matters reserved to Westminster.

In the meantime the Scottish Government has requested COSLA to seek ways of avoiding evictions where under occupancy penalty is the sole cause (the prime purpose of Ms Baillie's Bill). That it is only Labour and Labour / Conservative coalition councils who are continuing with under occupancy penalty arrears evictions rather suggests Ms Baillie's 'Bill' is a Red Herring as it is clearly not supported by Labour and Labour coalition councils in Scotland.

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