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Sturgeon vows to end bed tax eviction threat

Victory for tenants as arrears fund is boosted

Trade unions and community activists rejoiced yesterday as the Scottish government finally caved to public pressure over the hated bedroom tax.

SNP Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pledged to effectively abolish the sanctions for tenants and housing associations in Scotland, upping her government's contribution to the pool of discretionary housing payments available for victims of the Con-Dem cuts.

The tax docks housing benefit payments by up to 25 per cent for those in council housing or renting from housing associations who are deemed to have a spare room.

Those households, with a median gross income of £209 a week, face eviction unless they can pay an average £728 a year in arrears - the equivalent of six weeks' rent.

Everyone from charities to housing associations to a United Nations rapporteur-general have condemned the tax and noted the dearth of affordable one-bedroom homes.

Victims have described destitution and in many cases contemplated suicide.

Ms Sturgeon has previously ducked calls for blanket protection of tenants in Scotland, telling reporters last April that amending the Housing Scotland Act to ban evictions where renters had fallen into arrears under the policy would "create an anomalous situation."

But she said yesterday she was now "more than willing" to boost her government's contribution to the emergency fund from £20 million to £35m, bringing the total pool to around £50m a year - the projected cost of the policy to tenants in Scotland.

The announcement ends months of pleading from charities, unions, housing associations and grassroots groups, culminating in a petition presented to MSPs on Holyrood's welfare reform committee last week.

The No 2 Bedroom Tax Campaign's Alan Wylie, who presented the petition, said he felt "great pride" to see elected representatives standing by Scotland's tenants.

"It is a victory for activists, community groups, trade unions, the voluntary sector and every other organisation that joined the fight against the bedroom tax.

"But I think, more importantly, today was a victory for tenants."

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