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Human rights body backs UN "bedroom tax" rapporteur

12 September 2013

The Scottish Human Rights Commission has welcomed the preliminary statements made by the UN Special Rapporteur on the so-called "bedroom tax", despite her observations having met strong criticism from the Conservative Party chairman.

After hearing accounts from those affected by the policy, which involves a restriction on the housing benefit paid to those deemed to occupy houses with more bedrooms than they need, Raquel Rolnik called for the "tax" to be suspended to allow time for a better assessment of the human rights implications, and for it to be redesigned.

Ms Rolnik, who is producing a report on adequate housing around the world for the UN Human Rights Council, said on BBC Radio that there was a "danger of a retrogression in the right to adequate housing" in the UK.

She said she was in the UK for two weeks at the Government's invitation. However the Conservatives' chairman Grant Shapps said she had not been invited by ministers and had "clearly come with an agenda".

He accused her of failing to meet with the Government department responsible (in fact she had one meeting with a senior official and a further meeting to present her findings), of producing a press release two weeks after coming although her report was not due until next spring, of failing to give the policy its correct name, and of political bias. He had written to the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, to protest.

Facilitator

The Commission said it "was pleased to help facilitate discussions between the special rapporteur and a wide range of civil society organisations in Scotland during her visit".

Her recommendations would be considered by the drafting group developing the Commission's National Action Plan for Human Rights, which it aims to launch in December. This will be a "roadmap" for the progressive realisation of internationally agreed human rights, including the right to adequate housing contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The Commission added that it "notes in particular the recommendation made by the special rapporteur that the so called 'bedroom tax' be immediately suspended and its human impact reviewed. The Commission has repeatedly recommended that welfare reform measures should be assessed based on their human rights impact both in design and implementation. This should happen as a matter of urgency".

The watchdog body maintains that incorporation into domestic law of UN human rights treaties would "prevent and provide protection against any such human rights breaches in the future".

  • Guidance on when a room is too small for the benefit deduction to apply has been given in an appeal by a Fife man to the first-tier tribunal. Simon Collins QC ruled in allowing an appeal by David Nelson of Glenrothes that a room between 50 and 70 square feet is only suitable for occupation by a chld under 10, and that a room measuring less than 50 square feet is too small to be classed as a bedroom.

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