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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Owen. The Scottish National party supports the intentions behind Labour’s amendment 19, because access to support must be available within 13 weeks and not the proposed 39 weeks.
According to Shelter, around £300 million per annum in SMI is “small” in terms of welfare spending, but it is very important:
“It covers the interest payments for around 200,000 home owners on their mortgages, meaning that they are less likely to be forced into having their home repossessed and, ultimately, to end up homeless.”
Shelter also says that SMI has
“tight eligibility criteria and is restricted to very low income households who are out of work, pensioners or sick or disabled. In fact, the overwhelming majority of recipients of SMI either qualify through pension credit or employment and support allowance.”
They are already some of the most vulnerable benefit claimants, so adding a further burden by turning the benefit into a loan is essentially giving with one hand and taking away with the other. We do not support the Government’s attack on the weakest by forcing more and more vulnerable people to take on the added burden of debt just to get out of hard times. How can we define that as welfare?
Amendment 19 would ensure a waiting period for applications by eligible claimants for support with mortgage interest of 13 weeks. That would offer protection against the Government increasing the waiting period, as they have done with statutory instrument No. 1647, which will increase the waiting period to 39 weeks from 1 April 2016. The explanatory memorandum to the instrument states:
“The provisions in this instrument introduce a 39 week waiting period for all working age claimants who are required to serve a waiting period before housing costs, including payment of eligible mortgage interest, can be paid.”
We do not want yet more financial pressure on benefit claimants due to having to wait more than half a year to receive financial help with their mortgage interest payments, let alone the added pressure of that financial help pushing them into further long-term debt when that benefit is turned into a loan. Has the Minister had discussions with the Scottish Government on the implications of that change from support to loan, which will impact the people of Scotland by pushing them into further debt? I would be grateful for information on that.