Fife Council has made an 11th-hour plea to the UK Government to scrap the so-called bedroom tax, warning it will plunge many tenants into severe hardship.
Some 6,300 tenants in the region will be affected by the controversial element of Westminster’s welfare reform, which will see those with spare bedrooms lose part of their housing benefit.
Depute council leader David Ross said the “appalling” under-occupation provision would hit some of society’s most vulnerable members, causing people to fall behind with rent payments or even lose their homes.
He said: “We want the UK Government to reverse this proposal and the Scottish Government to do more to help mitigate its impact.”
Failing a U-turn, he urged the government to make more people exempt, including parents with access to children.
From Monday, those renting from a local authority, housing association or social landlord will lose 14% of their housing benefit if they have one spare bedroom and 25% if they have two or more spare bedrooms.
Mr Ross said: “Many of us have real concerns about the overarching welfare reform policy, in particular the bedroom tax.
“It’s an appalling proposition. It’s just wrong and badly thought out. It will hit some of the most vulnerable in our society, won’t do what it’s supposed to do and will increase rent arrears and homelessness.
“It is also costing the council a considerable amount of money.”
The council has set aside £5.4 million to deal with the impact of welfare reform and agreed to top up a fund to help those struggling to £1m.
However, Mr Ross said: “That will only allow us to address perhaps a quarter to a third of the issues we think are going to come forward in terms of hardship.”
The council also agreed prospective tenants who reject the offer of properties with more bedrooms than they need will not be suspended from waiting or transfer lists.
Furthermore, it has pledged outstanding arrears will not prevent transfers to smaller properties for tenants attempting to keep their full housing benefit entitlement and that those facing financial difficulties as a result of the bedroom tax will not be evicted provided they try hard to pay their rent.
Mr Ross said: “All tenants should be doing their utmost to pay their rent and we will make sure we are doing our best to collect rent and stop people falling into arrears but we recognise that this is going to put some people into severe hardship.”
Council leader Alex Rowley said the local authority will do everything in its power to help Fifers struggling under the weight of welfare reform and urged those who need help to ask for it.
He said: “We have to do something to reduce this impact at a time when people are already struggling to cope with the rising costs of food, fuel and living day to day.
“Now many Fifers will have this additional financial burden which could cause them to fall into rent arrears. We will do everything legitimately possible to help tenants who find themselves in financial difficulties.”