The role played by the East Lothian Housing Association in helping to effectively remove the bedroom tax from Scotland was praised this week.
The organisation has been running an assistance scheme to help its tenants affected by the welfare reforms. Known as the ELHA Assistance Scheme or EAS, it sees small arrears due soley to the “bedroom tax” written off by qualifying tenants.
East Lothian MSP Iain Gray, Labour’s finance spokesman, was able to promote the initiative to Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney as a workable and legal way of circumventing a Department of Work and Pensions cap on the maximum amount of financial support that can be given to tenants. He said this was the key that unlocked the door to an agreement.
Mr Gray explained that he and his Labour colleagues convinced Mr Swinney that the ELHA scheme, and a similar one run by Renfrewshire Council, offered a route to ending the bedroom tax in Scotland if the DWP refused a request to lift the cap.
Mr Gray said: “I was determined to see the effects of the bedroom tax eliminated in the budget and although Mr Swinney agreed that he could find the funds, he would not allocate them without being shown a legal way to use them. Frankly, the East Lothian Housing Association scheme saved the day.
“Because the ELHA Scheme had been approved by legal advice and was already proven to be helping tenants in East Lothian, I was able to persuade Mr Swinney to do a deal. That the mitigation of the bedroom tax is only possible as a result of the ELHA Scheme is a fantastic achievement for them and East Lothian.
“Tenants from all over Scotland are set to benefit from this bedroom tax solution made in East Lothian.
“When the budget process first began at the end of last year there was no money allocated to support tenants and social landlords affected by the bedroom tax.
“The strength of feeling and pressure from campaigners helped change that and £20 million was found for this year and next.”
Martin Pollhammer, ELHA chief executive, said: “Our assistance scheme was in place on day one of the introduction of the so-called bedroom tax because we felt there were unacceptable impacts for us as an organisation but more importantly for our affected tenants.”