Edinburgh's Administration councillors today ignored their officers' advice and adopted a left-wing "no evictions" policy for those who fall into arrears following Government changes to housing benefit.
The flawed policy will bring damaging social consequences and is dangerous for three reasons:
1. It is a local attempt to thwart the Government's aims of making Housing Benefit fair to tenants whether they are in the social or private rented sector;
2. It encourages the small numbers affected by Housing Benefit changes to ignore their rent bills meaning rent increases in future for all tenants as the debt builds up;
3. It sends the signal that the Council isn't serious about collecting the money it is owed and could see further increases in rent and Council Tax arrears which can only result in long term reductions in services.
Arguments against adopting the policy are laid out in detail by Edinburgh's professional housing officers in paragraphs 2.31 to 2.36 of this report.
Edinburgh Conservatives proposed the following amendment but were outvoted:
1. Notes that Housing Benefit payments have doubled in the 10 years to 2010
2. Notes the need to reduce the increase in total Welfare payments, especially whilst the UK continues to have a large borrowing requirement
3. Notes that the Housing Benefit measures are not designed to make people move but, for people who are under occupying, to encourage realistic choices about how they will meet the rent on a property which is larger than they need, such as moving into work or increasing working hours
4. Notes the introduction of measures to reduce the subsidy currently paid to occupants of social housing who under occupy their accommodation
5. Notes that in this respect these measures put recipients of Housing Benefit in social rented housing on the same footing as those in private rented housing, where such a standard is already imposed
6. Notes that in February 2013, of the 25,385 outstanding applications for housing on EdIndex, almost 5,000 applicants classed themselves as overcrowded
7. Notes that in recent years around 500 one bedroom Council properties have become available for let each year
8. Notes the estimate of 3,800 Council tenants who will be affected by the new rules
9. Notes that the UK Government, the Scottish Government and Edinburgh Council have provided considerable sums to support people who find themselves in severe difficulty in relation to the reduction in Housing Benefit
10. Notes the financial, administrative and other risks outlined in the Managing Arrears Arising from Housing Benefit Under-occupancy report (paragraphs 2.32 to 2.36) concerning the consequences of mixed messages regarding tenants responsibilities, greater risk of tenants getting into longer term debt and its consequences, fairness, legal challenge and reduction in HRA which would reduce resources and the potential for higher rents for all.
11. Notes current council measures (paragraphs 2.19 to 2.30) which detail support for tenants who have fallen into arrears for any reason and the limited circumstances in which action is taken for eviction
12. Resolves not to adopt a ‘no evictions’ policy in respect of arrears deemed to accrue in connection with the Housing Benefit reforms.