03/02/2014 Newsnight Scotland


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awaiting the completion of continuing investigations and fresh


inquests. On Newsnight Scotland tonight. Is a


Scottish solution to the effects of the spare room subsidy within sight?


The Scottish Government says it has the money to negate the impact of


the so-called bedroom tax, but need Westminster to enable them to use


it? Scottish Labour say they've got a plan B if the UK government


doesn't play ball. And the Department of Work and Pensions say


last year two thirds of Scottish local authorities didn't even apply


for any money from the ?20 million UK Discretionary Housing fund.


Good evening. Is the end in sight for the one of the most contentious


areas of welfare reform enacted by coalition ministers at Westminster?


The Scottish Government says it's found an extra ?15 million to


mitigate the effects of the change dubbed the bedroom tax. The


announcement follows talks between SNP ministers and Labour MSPs at


Holyrood, discussions that have been going on this evening. Both sides


are hailing this as a victory but are they counting their chickens


before they've hatched. The Scottish Government says it needs to get


agreement from the Department for Work and Pensions to lift a cap on


the payments they can make to those affected by the ending of the spare


room subsidy. Huw Williams has been hearing from one benefit claimant.


This is what the so-called bedroom tax looks like.


This is what the so-called bedroom brother are losing the benefits


This is what the so-called bedroom but she says they need it. I have an


extra bedroom but my daughter there is an everyday to see that we are


all right. She wills they three or four nights a week because I do not


keep well myself. She helps me with my brother as well. We keep the


spare bedroom for my daughter but they are still charging me. The


Deputy first Minister was visiting a college today. We want to mitigate


the impact of the bedroom tax in school and the John Swinney has


thrown that money but the only legal route we have two making payments on


a regular basis to people affected is the discretionary housing


payments. Currently we are limited as to how much money we can make


available because we can only top of that fund by 150% of whatever the


DWP provides. I will be writing to them to ask them to lift the cup.


The Department for work and pensions say they have not yet responded but


they said this did not fit with the experience. They said the UK


government had set aside ?20 million this year to provide extra support


but only 11 councils applied. That leaves around ?15 million on


allocated. In reply, the body representing Scotland's councils


said those figures were out of date, and details did not emerge until


after Scottish government funding was announced, and they said it was


purely constructed and unclear, was announced, and they said it was


Labour says there is another way for the Scottish government


Labour says there is another way for could wipe out debt is built up by


tenants, which is what Renfrewshire Council are doing. We proactively


went about using the legislation to make sure we could reclassify


bedrooms, mostly through the need for medical equipment to be stored.


We reclassified to take over 300 people out of the bedroom tax. We


have identified ?5 million over five years to set up the council tenants


assistance fund, which again proactively looks at those people


that have either applied or failed to get discretionary housing


payments from the government, and we are using that fund to offset the


early years that are accruing. -- the arrears. That dries on the


council keeping the books balanced and even campaigners say this cannot


continue forever. It is not sustainable but for me if a problem


is so strong you have two act on what powers you have two sticks it.


That can happen just now and then we can worry about the sustainability


in the next budget. When you are talking about infecting disabled


people who have been in their homes for 20 years and cannot work and


cannot move, you do something in the emergency interim and fix the bigger


problem later on. I think on Wednesday the Scottish government


will announce it has effectively abolish the bedroom tax. Legal aid


cannot do that but I think it abolish the bedroom tax. Legal aid


say it has found ways to mitigate abolish the bedroom tax. Legal aid


the impact in school. This observer says that is


the impact in school. This observer by the SNP. The Scottish government


has argued that will not be legally possible to do that but there is


increasing evidence that they legally can do that. You have to to


look at whether it is realistic to imagine the UK government would,


looking for the Scottish government if it were two very publicly say we


are helping the victims. Back at Jane's house, she is hoping the deal


today is through. They have increased my antidepressants because


you are coping with the bedroom tax and trying to cope with the


handicapped brother at the same time. I do not know how many times I


have broken down and had to go to my doctor through it. MPs on the


Scottish affairs committee will hear evidence tomorrow on the impact of


the bedroom tax in Scotland. Joining us from Dundee is Professor


Paul Spicker, a welfare reform specialist from the Centre for


Public Policy and Management at Robert Gordons University. Good


evening. Thank you for joining us. Good evening. Tellers more about the


legal constraints on the Scottish government when it comes to these


discretionary housing payments. The Scotland act, the act which founded


the powers of the Parliament, reserves powers relating to social


security. Two benefits. Benefits are defined in a number of ways but they


are quite specific, that payments which are made for individuals, to


help them with their housing costs, are considered to be benefits and


therefore normally out with the powers of the Scottish Parliament.


What would be the reality is the Scottish Government ignored that?


They are talking about ?50 million, a militantly small sum of money in


the grand scheme of things. -- ?59. It is not so much about the money


but very much a question about whether the parliament could ever do


something which was beyond their powers. At every stage of the


process, there will be people who will be looking at the system,


seeing how it operates and saying old on a moment, I do not have the


power to do that. Being fearful of the consequences for themselves


personally if they go beyond their legal powers. Labour-saving other


mechanisms available. They point to the way that local authorities have


been writing off some debts. Is that an option available to the Scottish


Government, to fund that particular activity? Would it, as ministers


say, also leave them falling foul of the fact that Social Security is


reserved for Westminster? There may be possibilities for a number of


different funding mechanisms. Labour has come up with one suggestion. The


suggestion of forgiving arrears does imply, though, both that the


landlords will feel more than a little insecure about it and very


often the tenants who are going through the process, who are racking


up arrears, will also feel scared. It is often the case with these sort


of things that the devil is in the detail. It is very difficult to know


how things are going to work in practice. What we have to look for


our mechanisms to make it possible. The main mechanism which is possible


is to fund landlords, social landlords, housing associations and


councils, perhaps, rather than the tenants directly. It is only


payments to the tenants that are restricted. It is talked about that


local authorities have to apply extra money in the Scottish


Government but mainly from Westminster as being a poor


situation. The Westminster as being a poor


unclaimed. Do you believe that politics are at play? I do not think


that is the main factor. Clearly local authorities look at what it is


there being asked to do, whether they are able to provide the


information or whether they have the mechanisms to deal with that. It has


not proved to be a very good system. Professor, thank you very


much for that. With me here is the SNP MSP Jamie


Hepburn, a member of Holyrood's Welfare Reform Committee. In


Edinburgh another member of that committee, Conservative MSP Alex


Johnstone and also Labour's Finance spokesman, Iain Gray. Good evening


to all of you. Iain Gray, you have been talking to John Swinney, has a


deal been reached? We are not at Wednesday yet but the talks have


been constructive. This is something we have been asking for for many


months. The commitment which was seen today to complete the package


of ?15 million, 20 million already, this 15 which seems to have been


announced through the means of the media, and the DWP DH money is


something we have been asking for for a long time. It is very welcome


indeed. We continue to talk with John Swinney about what we believe


is a way that this can be achieved and the impact of the bedroom tax


can be fully mitigated with or without agreement from the DWP. But


is it your understanding that the Scottish Government will only go


ahead with these plans if the DWP agreed to lift this cap, as Nicola


Sturgeon was suggesting? No. To me, this is perhaps a bit of a red


herring and really is the Scottish Government are going to ask for the


cap to be listed, I wish they had done at some time ago. We have


presented to the Scottish done at some time ago. We have


an alternative, not just for local Association in East Lothian, a


similar hardship fund is in place, which, as the professor explained,


is not making benefits payments but is writing off small amounts of


accrued debt. Those two schemes are already in place. They are already


working. One has been looked over by Audit Scotland on the other is being


considered by the Housing Association's lawyers. Whitney... We


should do it now. Let me put these points to Jamie porn. Talking of a


cap by the DWP and that having to be raised is a red herring. -- lets


talk to Jamie now. Anybody would accept that the much maligned


bedroom tax can be helped through discretionary payments of soccer is


presently a cap in place. Seems an arbitrary measure to stop the affair


from government ministers that they believe the Scottish Government has


the means to try to get rid of the bedroom tax and stop the Scottish


Government has identified this is the most reasonable request. Is it


reasonable to look at these areas that Iain Gray suggested? Ian has


already had that discussion and dialogue is ongoing. People are


there, particularly those at the sharp end of the bedroom tax will be


looking for a politician to come together and find a solution. I


think it is pretty clear that discretionary housing payments are


the most obvious mechanism. I feel that we can continue to look for


some solution but I thought it was interesting what Paul was saying. I


think he was pretty clear and the welfare reform committee have had a


number of experts from the sector also accepting there are a number of


limitations on the Scottish Parliament's ability to act in terms


of the reservations set out in the Scotland act. Is this a good use of


?15 million, in your view? One could suggest that ?50 million might be


better spent on trying to encourage people to move out of under-occupied


properties into people who are overcrowded into these properties. I


think there is something going on here that we have to be careful of.


I do not think the discretionary housing fund is the best way for the


Scottish Government to use this as they million pounds it has found. I


think there is a good case to be made for adopting the method that


was highlighted by yourself by what is going on in Renfrewshire. In


fact, what is going on in reverse today is exactly what Lord Freud


suggested to members of the welfare committee when he met over one year


ago. Do you accept... This is not a new idea. It can be made to work


effectively to stop the DEHP is not a perfect fit for what we want this


money to do. I would suggest that perhaps we won't to find an


alternative way for this money to go. Do you accept this benefit


changes causing hardship? Inevitably there will be winners and losers


when policy is designed to make better use of existing housing


stock. There is already over ?34 million available through the


discretionary housing fund to mitigate against those who have


problems with the change in the rules. So what I do say is that if


there is money available and it is undersubscribed in the current year


then perhaps simply bidding each other for the amount of money that


we want to see in the fund next year is not the most effective way to go.


That is an interesting point. When we have the money available from


Westminster and two thirds of the local authority in Scotland have not


applied for it, if this is causing so much hardship, why would local


authorities not ask for the cash? I understand that came late in the day


and there have been criticism of the operators and it came after the


Scottish Government had already made the maximum amount that local


governments the maximum amount that local


this is if we are talking about red herrings, I think this is a red


herring from the Department for Work and Pensions. We know that this is a


measure that has been put in place that is causing distress to people.


The Scottish Government has come up with a straightforward solution that


if the cap is listed, it will be compliant with law and I think we


should be getting on with that and it is incumbent on the DWP to


respond. What is your sense, Iain Gray, office this obscenity of all


the parties working together? You have been critical in the part of


John Swinney and saying that to some extent he has not been mitigating


the fool affects for political classical. -- of this talk of all


the parties working together. When the budget that we were discussing


was already introduced there was no additional funding. John has brought


in an additional ?20 million. He has now said that he has the final ?15


million. I think Jimmy is right. The most important thing is that the


80,000 households affected, like Jean, the one you should your film,


I think their expectation is that we should reach a position where nobody


in Scotland has 2p the bedroom tax and certainly nobody has two days


eviction because of arrears. The important thing is that we reach a


position on Wednesday where irrespective of the answer of the


Scottish Government -- the answer the Scottish Government get from the


DWP that we put a system in that achieve that. I think we are very


close to that and it is definitely, to my mind, a price worth having.


How would you urge Lord Freud to respond to this letter from Nicola


Sturgeon? First of all, the decision that is involved here is well above


my pay grade. However, it is fair to say that there are alternative


methods. I think say that there are alternative


asking the Scottish say that there are alternative


is broaden its say that there are alternative


sure that it has an alternative route by which this money which it


has managed to find can be used by the purpose it has identified. You


would not urge Lord Freud to raise the cap? That is an option but it is


not the only option. The last thing I want to do is see the Scottish


Government blaming the UK Government for not making the decision it once


when the Scottish Government itself could find alternative to deal with


this issue. Are you convinced that the


alternative work, Jamie Hepburn? And if the DWP says no, should the


Government be looking at those? We need to be clear, the reservations


in the Scotland act is not just about direct payments in your social


Security payments, it is also about payments in respect of what would


beetles and security payments. So what might be legal for local


government might not actually be legal for the Scottish Parliament.


Thank you for joining us this evening.


Now a quick look at tomorrow's front pages.


They say that the Institute of chartered accountants want more


information from both governments. The financial Times says the cost of


a financial regulator in an independent Scotland is being


questioned also. That's all from me. More news is


always on BBC Scotland's website and Good Morning Scotland is on Radio


Scotland tomorrow morning at 6am. Good night.


After a spell of overnight rain, maybe some snow across the high


ground in the north. Most going to choose the north. Most go into


Tuesday on a dry and brighter note that there will be some heavy


thunder to the south and west. Some of you avoid them altogether and


there will probably more dry weather than met for many interesting.


Particularly in Northern Ireland, wind is not as strong. The few


showers are possible, especially to the


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