The opposition SNP group of Aberdeenshire Council have expressed disappointment following the defeat of their bid to rule out evictions for tenants affected by the so-called ‘bedroom tax’.
The motion, proposed by SNP group leader Cllr Hamish Vernal and seconded by Democratic Independent Cllr Paul Johnston, would have prevented tenants being evicted for rent arrears arising from the Under Occupancy charge.
Introduced by the Westminster Government, the new levy will make people on benefits to pay a surcharge if they have an extra bedroom in their home.
Conservative, Lib Dem, Labour and Independent Group members united to vote against the motion which was tabled at a meeting on Thursday, April 25 at Woodhill House in Aberdeen. The vote was defeated by 34 votes to 30.
Speaking following the vote, Cllr Vernal said: “While we’re obviously disappointed that the motion didn’t pass, the debate was a positive one, helped by the fact it stayed focused on what Aberdeenshire Council can do to help those affected by the bedroom tax.
“We recognise that Council officers are already doing much to try and lessen the impact of Westminster’s welfare reforms. However, by passing this proposal, we could have copper-bottomed the existing support on offer.”
Labour members voted against the motion despite backing a similar move in Edinburgh City Council and opposing the tax nationally.
SNP Banchory and Mid Deeside Councillor Linda Clark said: “This is not just about keeping a spare room for the sake of it. Many tenants can’t move to a smaller property because the housing isn’t available. The worry I have is people being evicted because of something they can’t help.”
Stonehaven and Lower Deeside SNP Councillor Graeme Clark said: “People are getting hit from all angles at the moment. Fuel poverty is on the rise, foodbanks are being set up and we feel this will really hit vulnerable people. It is a scunner for us because all the other parties have come together to thwart us.”
Leader of the Labour group at the Council, Alison Evison, said the group was against the charge: “We, along with Labour colleagues, are against the Under Occupancy Charge and are seeking to mitigate its devastating effects.
“Our Aberdeenshire Alliance colleagues have shown that they too all share this wish to put into practice effective mitigation against this reform. The Scottish Government has the power to pass legislation to help those effected by this Welfare Reform and the Aberdeenshire Labour Group is asking them to use this power.
She added: “We regret that the local SNP has... brought a political element into the discussion when the focus should actually be on helping and supporting those affected.”
Social Work and Housing Committee Chair Cllr Karen Clark, who spoke at the debate, said: “...it’s been extremely disappointing to see that ever since (the debate), the SNP has been out to attack the Alliance administration and in particular the attacks have been nasty and personal aimed at our two Labour councillors in the Alliance.
“The Notice of Motion pledging a ‘no evictions policy’ is yet another glib SNP sound bite with no thought to the practicalities of how the policy would work in practice. We know in Aberdeenshire that there are around 27% of our tenants already in arrears so why does the SNP not extend full protection from eviction for them ? Favouring one set of tenants over another is unfair and discriminatory. It also sends out the message that it is ok not to pay your rent.
“The solution in Aberdeenshire is to invest in targeting support to those who need it. Our housing staff have been contacting all those affected personally, we’ve taken on extra employees to deal with the impact of the reforms, we’re liaising with partners in credit unions, the voluntary sector and advice agencies to help the most vulnerable. As Chair of Social work and Housing I have requested that we bring back a key report to Policy and Resources and Social Work and Housing committees in six months time with all the data gathered to give a fuller picture of the impact of the under occupancy charge on our tenants. This is the most effective way to make decisions, not making ‘policy on the hoof’ . If the SNP seriously think a ‘no evictions policy’ is the right thing to do, then I look forward to Alex Salmond giving Aberdeenshire Council the financial resources to cover all the costs.”