Skip to main content

Housing Benefit

Volume 557: debated on Monday 28 January 2013

1. What estimate he has made of the number of households in Scotland affected by the new under-occupancy rules for housing benefit. (139384)

The social sector size criteria, which will be introduced from April, will align housing benefit rules for those living in social sector accommodation with those already applied to claimants living in the private rented sector. We estimate that around 80,000 households in Scotland could be affected.

The vast majority of tenants affected by this policy have no realistic prospect of finding a smaller, cheaper house. It also has many implications for devolved policy areas. Will the Minister ask the Secretary of State to show his respect for the Scottish Parliament by appearing in person before its Welfare Reform Committee?

Obviously, the impact of housing benefit policy, which is a matter for the UK Parliament, will be different in different parts of the country. I have been to the Scottish Parliament and talked to the Deputy First Minister about welfare reform and we keep a dialogue open with our colleagues in Scotland.

Is it not the case that in Scotland and England as a whole getting on for 2 million families are in overcrowded accommodation? Is it not important that we think about their needs?

My hon. Friend is right to bring forward the voice of those in overcrowded accommodation, which is all too often not heard in this debate. At the same time as we are paying housing benefit for approaching a million spare bedrooms, a quarter of a million households in overcrowded accommodation would love the opportunity to live in a larger house.

At the weekend, I spoke to one of my constituents in Scotland who has been a foster parent for 23 years and currently has four foster children, two of whom are in long-term placements. She fosters for one local authority and lives just over the border in another, which means that there is now considerable confusion about the discretionary payments. Would it not be much better if foster parents were exempted altogether?

We recognise the special position of foster carers, which is why we allocated £5 million of discretionary housing payments so that local authorities can respond on a case-by-case basis to the needs of foster carers. We believe that that is a more flexible approach than a blanket exemption.

At the same time as millionaires are getting a tax cut, hundreds of thousands of Britain’s poorest families, people with disabled children, the terminally ill and the bereaved will be made poorer or forced to move. That risks increasing the benefits bill, as most will go into the private rented sector where rents are higher. However, I want to ask for a clear assurance about the brave men and women serving in the forces. Will the Minister assure the House that they and their families will have their rent covered 100%, that they will not lose a penny while they are away from home and that they will not be affected at all? Yes or no?

On the hon. Gentleman’s point about millionaires, I gather they are hankering after the halcyon days when they used to pay only 40% income tax and 18% capital gains tax. On his point about service personnel, let me make it absolutely clear that in the case of a couple with a young adult who is going off to serve with the forces, when that young person leaves the home to serve on the front-line we cease to assume that they are making a rent contribution. When that person goes off to serve, the housing benefit will, in general, go up.