As part of my commitment to more open democracy and increased representation, I hold regular E-consultation sessions with constituents.

The way it works is simple – from time to time I will send an e-mail to those who are willing to take part, asking their views on a particular issue. Topics will range from the local to the national, and those who want more detail on the issue in question will be referred to websites where there is balanced information on each side of the argument. Constituents are then invited to vote on the issue, usually with a simple yes/no answer. Those who wish to are also invited to give reasons for their decision. There is no obligation to answer any particular question and you can opt out at any time.

You can ask to stop receiving such messages at any time and I welcome feedback on frequency and content.

I hope you will be interested in taking part in this experiment in using technology to make democracy more effective.

To join our e-consultation list send an email to Karen Hurst with ‘E-Consultation Sign-up’ in the subject line hurstk@parliament.uk

Latest E-Consultation Results

Thank you to everyone who took part in my most recent e-consultation on the spare room subsidy; more than 300 of you replied and it certainly provoked lively debate.

I absolutely recognise that this is a divisive and difficult issue, and that this may not be one of the more popular measures the Coalition Government has implemented to address our housing problems. However, when I set up my e-consultation I was determined that it should ask difficult questions, so I did not want to shy away from this issue!

The question I asked was:  Do you agree with changes to Housing Benefit that base payments on the number of bedrooms needed?

The results were:

  • 69% did not agree that housing payments should be based on the number of rooms required
  • 31% did agree with this system.

One thing that was notable was how many people voted one way, but commented in the body of their email that neither extreme was desirable. Indeed, one individual explained “I think my answer is along the lines of ‘Yes, but’ and it could perhaps as easily have been ‘No, but…’. 

Of those who supported it, many noted that they supported it in principle, but did not feel implementation should be strict initially. Interestingly, several people raised the idea that the charge should be put in place only where the recipient had been offered a smaller home, but refused it.  A few people noted that we should move away from the mindset that a Council house is a house for life, as this is not sustainable in the modern world. One respondent highlighted that she lives in a two bedroom home with her husband and three children, and can see no prospect of being offered a suitably sized property in the near future. Sadly, I find this to be a common situation here in East Dunbartonshire.

Of those who are against it, the overwhelming concern was the lack of suitable smaller housing for this policy to be truly effective.  I sensed that many respondents were not against asking people to consider moving where their home is vastly too big for their needs, but that assessment should happen on a case by case basis to ensure it is fair. One constituent, who has a son with disabilities, pointed out that parents like him already have to cope with a great deal of stress, and uncertainty over living arrangements could make the situation even worse.  Many people also noted that it is difficult to ask people, particularly older people, to move away from the communities they have been part of for some time.

Personally,  I am supportive of the measures to ensure tenants are supported in the same way whether they are renting from a private landlord, the Council or a housing association but I do recognise that, as it is implemented, the Coalition Government needs to be prepared to look at whether changes should be made.

In March 2013 the Liberal Democrats successfully secured important new changes to the policy to give full protection to foster carers and families of members of the armed forces, as well as discretionary exemptions for children with disabilities. We have also successfully campaigned for massive increases in discretionary housing payments (DHPs) to help vulnerable people. We have increased total DHPs from £20 million in 2011 to £180 million today.

At our 2013 Federal Conference, we called for an immediate evaluation of the impact of the under-occupancy penalty, establishing how many larger homes are freed up, how much money is saved, the cost of implementation and the policy’s impact on vulnerable tenants.

My colleague, Steve Webb, has announced additional money to local authorities to help those most in need as a result of these changes. In fact, within the past year, the Coalition Government has allocated an additional £20 million that local authorities can bid for. If they have exhausted, of believe that they will exhaust, their discretionary housing payment budgets, they can also ask the Government for a top up. Barely a dozen local authorities have asked for additional funding.

So far, I have not had many constituents contact me who have been affected by the changes. However, please do let me know if you are, or if you know someone who is affected and in difficulty please do encourage them to get in touch.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to participate – it is always appreciated!

Past Results

November 2013: Housing Benefit 

August 2013: European Union

December 2012: Tax avoidance

October 2012: Bishopbriggs Town Centre Redevelopment 

October 2012: Kirkintilloch Town Centre Redevelopment

October 2012: Milngavie/Bearsden Development

July 2012: Tobacco packaging

May 2012: Same sex civil marriage

April 2012: Scottish Independence

December 2011: Thank you and Happy New Year!

November 2011: Scottish Boundary Review

October 2011: Should we raise the motorway speed limit to 80mph?

July 2011: Do you agree that the government should invest in high speed rail between London and the north of England?

June 2011: Should people in the public eye be able to use super-injunctions to keep their private lives private?

April 2011: Parking charges, would you pay to park?

February 2011: Voting Reform

January 2011: Should Scotland freeze Council tax at the expense of local services?

November 2010: Should winter days remain lighter for longer?

October 2010: Should the organ donation register be switched to an opt-out system?

March 2010: Should the government provide tax breaks for married couples?

August 2009: Should the law be changed to allow doctors and families to assist the terminally ill if they choose to end their life?

June 2009: What can be done to rebuild trust in politics?

April 2009: Should the Government ban promotional offers and fix minimum prices to tackle Scotland’s alcohol problems?

January 2009: Should the Government use public money to keep troubled firms in business?

December 2008: Will you be changing your Christmas spending this year?

October 2008: Should energy companies be made to use more of their ETS windfall profits to cut

July 2008: Prime Minister’s Questions’ Consultation

May 2008: Do you agree with the proposals to update the law on embryonic stem cell research?

February 2008: Should state funding of political parties play a role in cleaning up how our politics is financed?

November 2007: Would a Local Income Tax be fairer than the Council Tax?

September 2007: Should more powers be devolved to the Scottish Parliament?

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