Scottish Parliament's Welfare Reform Committee publishes Interim Report on 'Bedroom Tax'

The Commission welcomes the findings of the Welfare Reform Committee who published their ‘Interim Report on the Bedroom Tax’ today. In particular we share the view of the Committee that:

“The under-occupancy charge, also known as the 'bedroom tax' is iniquitous and inhumane and may well breach tenants’ human rights.”

Under the Welfare Reform Act 2012 a charge on under-occupation by working age social tenants receiving Housing Benefit known as ‘the bedroom tax’, was introduced from 1 April 2013. The Scottish Government estimates that around 82,000 households in Scotland are affected, at an average cost of £50 per month per household. 80% of those households included a disabled adult and 15,500 of the total cases included  families with children. This policy has been criticised by the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, third sector groups, opposition political parties, and has been consistently been brought to the Commission’s attention throughout the development period of Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights.

Chair of the Commission Professor Alan Miller gave evidence to the Committee in July 2013 - his comments are referenced in today’s report. As part of his evidence Professor Miller confirmed that the implementation of welfare reform measures - at least in part - do not comply with the Government’s human rights obligations, and that they are, in part, likely to breach the human rights of some of the people who are affected.

Reflecting on the potential for successful legal challenges to the ‘bedroom tax’ Professor Miller said to the Committee:

“The challenges, which have begun to come forward, will be based on the Equality Act 2010, particularly in relation to discrimination against disabled people and the lack of a proper impact assessment; on the Human Rights Act 1998, with regard to what is called the right to a possession -in this case, a social security entitlement - and discriminatory interference with that right in terms of, for example, the impact on the disabled, and on the European Convention on Human Rights Article 8, which covers the right to a private life, a family life and a home.

“The bedroom tax might well be on the radar for challenges under that  Article, because it might be argued that such interference is disproportionate and that the potential savings and stated public purpose do not outweigh the impact on individuals or families of having to uproot themselves from the life that they have led and look for alternative accommodation.”

Today’s report from the Committee finds that the “only way to deal with the 'bedroom tax' effectively is to abolish it” before stating that the Welfare Reform Act 2012:

“…treats public sector accommodation as merely bricks and mortar rather than a home. Many of the people affected by the ‘bedroom tax’, including those who gave evidence to us, have lived in their properties for decades. The Committee believes that these are clearly homes and the ‘bedroom tax’ is forcing people out of them.”

Other findings, based on the evidence of a wide range of individuals, legal experts, and representatives from local authorities and the housing sector in Scotland, included:

“The 'bedroom tax' is having a real and harmful impact on people’s lives, and often the most vulnerable in society – people with disabilities, their carers, children in separated families etc.

Many people are ‘trapped’ into paying the 'bedroom tax' in that there are not enough one bedroom properties available to down-size to.

Although the 'bedroom tax' will reduce the housing benefit budget, it introduces a number of new costs to tenants, housing associations, local authorities, the Scottish Government and others - the tax may cost more than it saves.”

Welcoming the Committee’s report, today  Professor Alan Miller said:

“I commend the Committee for the approach they took in collecting evidence for this report. In particular that they assessed the impact of the ‘bedroom tax’ on people affected by reaching out directly to them and their communities.

The significance the Committee have placed on human rights demonstrates the essential role that human rights should play in assessing law and policy which affects peoples’ lives.”

Read the Welfare Reform Committee’s interim report here.

Read our written submission to the Welfare Reform Committee in Word format.

Notes to editors:

  1. The Welfare Reform Act 2012  introduced changes to the amount of housing benefit that will be paid to those working-age claimants who live in social housing and who are deemed to have more bedrooms than their household size needs. Those with one spare bedroom lose 14% of their eligible rent and those with two or more spare bedrooms lose 25%. The charge has been referred to as the ‘under occupancy charge’, or ‘spare room subsidy’ but is commonly termed the ‘bedroom tax’ in Scotland and this is the term that we have used in this report.
  2. The Welfare Reform Committee notes that the power to do so remains reserved to Westminster. The Committee therefore calls on the United Kingdom Government to abolish the ‘bedroom tax’ immediately or to devolve the power to do so to the Scottish Parliament.  
  3. The Scottish Human Rights Commission gave oral and written evidence to the Committee. The Commission has a statutory power to recommend such changes to Scottish law, policy and practice as it considers necessary.