A BORDERS politician has come under fire yet again for controversial welfare comments.

Former Selkirk councillor Michelle Ballantyne is the Scottish Conservative Party's social security spokeswoman at Holyrood.

During exchanges at a hearing of the Social Security Committee this week the South of Scotland MSP denied there was a 'bedroom tax'.

And she warned SNP depute leader Keith Brown not to 'even go down that route' while discussing Scottish mitigation of Westminster welfare policies.

The UK Government’s bedroom tax, which was introduced more than six years ago, imposes penalties on people claiming housing benefit for living in homes regarded as being larger than needed.

The policy affects more than 70,000 families in Scotland.

And an average of £650 per year is provided by the Scottish Government to mitigate the extra-bedroom benefit penalties.

Ms Ballantyne's claim was made during towards the end of the committee session.

She said: "Who is to say what will happen to the benefit system in the future?

"Committing to mitigating something for forever and a day is not necessarily relevant if the whole thing changed anyway."

The SNP's Keith Brown responded: "If the bedroom tax stays in place, will you remain committed to mitigating it in Scotland?"

Ms Ballantyne retorted: "There’s no such thing as a bedroom tax, so I wouldn’t even go down that route.”

The comments have been met with anger from many MSPs, including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

During First Minister's Questions, later on the same day, Ms Sturgeon said: "I am aware that Michelle Ballantyne, the Tories’ spokesperson for social security and welfare, said at a committee this morning that the bedroom tax does not exist.

"That will come as news to the many people who are subject to the bedroom tax—or who would be subject to the bedroom tax but for the mitigation action that the Scottish Government has taken to ensure that nobody in Scotland has to pay it.

"Perhaps Michelle Ballantyne will want to explain her comments later this afternoon.

"However, if the Tories do not even understand the basics about what people across the country are experiencing as a result of their welfare policies, it does not augur very well for our chances of persuading them to change them.

"It is an appalling comment, if indeed it was made, and I hope that Michelle Ballantyne will retract it at the earliest opportunity."

Ms Ballantyne courted controversy last October during discussions about a two-child benefit cap, stating people on benefits should not 'have as many children as they like' – despite claiming child benefits and tax credits for her own six children.

And she has also denied that UK-Government welfare policies have driven thousands to foodbanks.

Borders MSP Christine Grahame has joined the First Minister in calling for a public apology following this week's bedroom tax remarks.

Ms Grahame said: "These comments were outrageous, and her disregard for the real-life consequences of the hated bedroom tax cannot be ignored.

"If Michelle Ballantyne is who the Conservatives believe should be running the Scottish Social Security System given her comments about this and her previous comments about families receiving benefits then that speaks absolute volumes about the Scottish Tories.

“She should apologise and instead of dismissing the two-child cap, or suggesting that the poor shouldn’t have children, perhaps the Tories should start listening to the real life experiences of those facing genuine hardship as a result of the Tory UK Government’s welfare policies.

"I hear these stories regularly from constituents who have run out of food or money for electric, they are absolutely a reality and I am furious on their behalf that the Tories push ahead regardless."

Michelle Ballantyne believes the row is over terminology.

She told us: "The point I was making in committee was simply that the, so called, 'bedroom tax' is not actually a form of taxation.

"It is the removal of the spare room subsidy on socially rented homes that used to be paid to families receiving housing benefit when the size of their house was larger than the benefits they were entitled to.

“It’s disappointing that Christine Grahame and the SNP are choosing to confect row over terminology rather than engage on important issues.

“As the Scottish Government starts to exercise their new social security powers, my focus is to ensure that social security in Scotland helps people in the best way possible. “