A guest post from 3p Steve.

Whatever you choose to call it, the UK Government’s “Bedroom Tax” (/spare room subsidy / under occupancy reduction) is one of the most controversial of its welfare reforms, especially in Scotland.

I don’t know if that’s because such a large proportion (almost 80%) of affected households contain a disabled tenant, or because there are so many different examples of the injustice of the measure, from separated parents, to service personnel to foster carers. But whatever the reason, there have been protests all over the UK, and both the Labour party and the SNP have come out strongly against it.

The Scottish Government, perhaps prompted by the Govan Law Centre and others, have written to councils and social landlords encouraging them to help where they can by reclassifying bedrooms and avoiding evictions. At council level, SNP-led Dundee council and Green-led Brighton and Hove council have both promised there will not be evictions resulting from arrears accrued due to the bedroom tax.

But the despite all of this, the UK Government remains firm, and will impose the bedroom tax from next month on 105,000 households in the social rented sector in Scotland, taking around £53 million out of the pockets of some of the poorest and most vulnerable.

Some have called on the SNP Government to stop the tax, who in turn have argued that the only way this can happen is with independence – they don’t have the powers, the means, or the money to stop it.

But now, thanks in part to George Osborne’s budget today, that’s simply not true.

The Scottish Government have been given enough extra money in today’s budget to undo the bedroom tax. By coincidence, as a result of Barnett consequentials, the Scottish Government will receive an extra £55 million in the next financial year.  Now according to the Scottish Government’s own analysis, that’s almost exactly the same as the £53 million needed to reverse the bedroom tax in full. There is a technical issue around capital and revenue budgets but, without going into too much boring detail, that shouldn’t be an issue: the Scottish Government generally transfers money from their revenue budget into the capital budget so they have the wiggle room they need to transfer a bit back.

What about the powers? Benefits are mostly a reserved matter, however, as Ian Smart shows on his blog, councils have powers to help out the poorest, and what’s more there is a well known and loved precedent – free personal care for the elderly.

What about the mechanism? Well up until the introduction of universal credit (which may never happen!) housing benefit will be administered by councils. That basically means that between them, the Scottish councils have to keep a list of all the households affected by the bedroom tax – they will know exactly who is affected and by how much their housing benefit is to be cut. There is nothing to stop these councils either not applying the cut to housing benefit (and making an internal budget transfer to cover the difference), paying the amount to the relevant social landlords directly (in many cases this will be the council itself, so again simply an internal budget transfer is all that is required) or paying the money in cash to the tenants affected. All councils need from the Scottish Government is for them to pass on the Barnett consequential money.

So if we are serious about stopping the bedroom tax in Scotland it’s good to know that we have the cash, we have the power, and we have the means. The only question is, does the Scottish Government have the political will?