Thursday, 25 May 2017

Council to use HRA funds to limit bedroom tax

A council has got permission from the housing minister to use money from rental income to set up a £420,000 fund to support tenants affected by welfare cuts.

Swindon is planning to use money from its housing revenue account to set up an ‘emergency fund’ for tenants hit by the ‘bedroom tax’ social housing under-occupation penalty.

Normally HRA funds can only be spent on housing, so the council has had to get housing minister Mark Prisk to approve the proposal.

Under the ‘bedroom tax’, which came into force on 1 April, social housing tenants of working age who are on housing benefit are having their payments cut if they have one or more spare bedrooms. Swindon estimates 1,100 of its tenants will be affected.

The council has not yet finalised how its emergency fund will be used, but expects to support families including someone with disabilities who cannot be expected to move, people living in rural areas who cannot downsize, and ‘other people in exceptional circumstances’. Councils have also been allocated a share of £30 million of discretionary housing payments to help people hit by the penalty.

Russell Holland, Swindon Council’s cabinet member for housing, has been working with the government since October to obtain a specific provision for the council’s plan.

He said: ‘As a Swindon councillor it is my priority to do my best for council tenants. I understand why benefits reform is necessary, but I believe it is important that the council has the ability to provide assistance for people in exceptional circumstances.

‘A grant scheme funded by and for council tenants is fair and will help to avoid hardship. I’m really pleased that the government has been willing to support this proposal.’

Mr Prisk said: ‘[Mr] Holland made a compelling case to use a small percentage of HRA funds to create this local emergency fund. I am pleased we have given this special provision so that Swindon Council can help those tenants in greatest need.’

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