The Socialist 29 May 2013 |
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Campaign to stop bedroom tax evictions!
Less than two months after being introduced, the bedroom tax is already causing the chaos campaigners predicted it would.
Since 1 April housing benefit has been slashed for council or housing association tenants who the millionaire Con-Dem ministers claim have 'spare' bedrooms. To avoid this tenants are told to move or they face massive increases in the amount of rent they are expected to cover.
Some councils and housing associations are warning tenants who aren't able to pay that they could be evicted after just one month's rent being short. Nearly a thousand people have received notice of arrears letters in Bradford. In Brighton, an anti-bedroom tax campaigner has been threatened with eviction, despite the Green Party-led council previously promising no evictions because of the bedroom tax.
This shows the bitter battles that lie ahead for anti-bedroom tax campaigns. We need to build anti-eviction 'armies' on every estate, ready to lobby courts and to physically defend tenants against bailiffs if necessary. This also means that campaigners and tenants need to get to know the legal position on evictions for rent arrears, which some of the articles on this page outline.
Con-Dem politicians claim the bedroom tax is needed because it's unfair that people who claim benefits have 'spare' bedrooms paid for by the public purse. But the question they all fail to answer is where they want people to move to. Councils certainly don't have spare smaller housing for all those affected. In fact the housing shortage is so bad that it was recently reported that Newham council in east London has moved people needing emergency accommodation 100 miles away to cram them into B&Bs in Birmingham.
Some Labour politicians have spoken out against the tax - but will they also 'walk the walk'? Labour could kill off the bedroom tax today if it wished, by pledging that a future Labour government would scrap it and bail out councils who have refused to implement it. Councils can use prudential borrowing powers and reserves to cover the shortfall in the meantime. They should link up with local campaigns to build a mass movement to defeat the tax.
But so far only six Labour councillors in Labour councils have voted against the cuts - and they have been suspended and expelled from the Labour Party, an indication of the Labour leadership's real attitude to the bedroom tax and other cuts.
There are enough resources in society to provide a decent, affordable home for all. The Socialist Party is campaigning around the country for the bedroom tax to be scrapped. We want councils to pledge not to implement the cut and not to evict those who can't pay.
If they don't, we will stand candidates against them as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition at the next election. We call for huge investment in a programme to regenerate empty housing and to build new houses to match demand.
See www.socialistparty.org.uk for campaign reports and other bedroom tax news. Get in touch for leaflets, posters and other campaign material:
020 8988 8777
Disabled people unfairly hit...twice
A woman signing our anti-cuts petition claimed she'd been turned down for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) to help cover the bedroom tax due to her Disability Living Allowance (DLA). This sounded wrong, I thought someone had made a mistake. But later another said that the council had taken her DLA into account when assessing her application.
As the purpose of DLA is to help meet the extra cost of disability the money is not counted as income when other benefits are assessed. But it can be with DHPs. There had been no mistake, government guidelines allow councils to treat DLA as income when considering whether to provide help with a tenant's bedroom tax or any other difficulty paying rent.
Not extra income
Many disabled people hand most or all of their DLA over to Motability for hire of a car. Others spend the money running a car bought privately or need to pay taxi fares. Many are paying for personal care or help in the home. Yet it's considered ok for this money to be spent on rent!
The government says that a council may want to 'bear in mind' that DLA might be committed to expenditures 'for which the money was intended' - but allows councils to require the money be available for rent anyway. It is all left to the council's discretion.
Also, each council's DHP allocation is limited - when the year's money has gone, it's gone. With 25,000 applications already received, councils are saying that the money's nothing like enough. If every DLA claimant received DHP, they would each get only £2.51 a week!
Yet whenever government ministers are challenged with cases of disabled people needing extra bedrooms - say because their home has been adapted at great cost or a room is needed for medical or mobility equipment - their stock answer is that this is the sort of thing that DHPs are for.
They aim to convince the public that such tenants will not have to pay the bedroom tax - when it's likely they will. Neither do they mention that any help will be means-tested or that the tenant will have to submit all their expenditure for scrutiny, listing money spent on food, clothes, phone bills, etc. Yet despite such tactics they are not succeeding in winning support for the bedroom tax.
I face losing my home of 31 years
31 years in the same house, now threatened with a notice of possession by Stevenage Labour council. Why? I am in arrears of £80.21, which is one month's bedroom tax, which this government of freeloaders have introduced.
Using the Nuremberg defence, council officials have said we are just following the new law. Stevenage borough council is refusing to accept any appeals against their decisions, even though all my bedrooms are being used.
Tenants in Bedwell ward of Stevenage are organising to defend each other from the council harassment and eviction. We are meeting at Bedwell Centre on Monday 3 June at 8pm.
The eviction process...
This is a general outline of what legal steps social landlords must take to evict someone because of rent arrears. It indicates that there is room for a well organised campaign to combine protesting with a challenge to the legal process. Thanks to Notts Bedroom Tax Campaign for this useful information which campaigns should discuss.
A social housing landlord can't start court action for rent arrears unless they've:
- tried to come to an agreement with you to pay off what you owe. This must be an amount you can afford to pay, based on how much money you have coming into your household and how much you need to spend
- offered to help you to claim housing benefit/Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP)
- advised you to get help from a Citizens Advice Bureau or debt advice agency
When a tenant has accrued rent arrears the landlord will initially make contact with them to discuss why the rent arrears have occurred and discuss solutions to resolve them (ie payment plans).
The landlord will send the tenant a letter (Notice to Seek Possession), stating that due to rent arrears there are potential grounds for possession. The notice usually states that court proceedings will commence by a certain date - this is usually a four week period.
If no arrangement or progress has been made regarding the rent arrears post the set date then it is usually seven days after this date that the landlord will apply to issue possession proceedings in the court.
The court will then serve the summons to the tenant once a date has been scheduled for the hearing. At the court hearing the judge can:
- Make an outright possession order (the landlord can take over possession of their property; however this cannot be done without a warrant of eviction)
- Dismiss the claim for possession
- Make a postponed/suspended possession order (an agreement is reached whereby the tenant will ensure their rent is paid plus an agreed amount of the arrears)
- Adjourn the hearing until a future date (usually the case when housing benefit has not been processed and the rent arrears have accrued due to the delayed housing benefit claim). If you currently have an appeal with the council it depends what the appeal is about as to whether they will adjourn the hearing. If it's about bedroom tax generally it is unlikely at this stage a judge will commit to make a decision where others could easier follow suit. If it's about bedroom size, or other technicalities then it should be adjourned until it has been determined. A hearing should be adjourned if DHP has been submitted but a tenant is still waiting to hear - usually income and expenditure breakdown is helpful for the courts at this stage to show there is a reasonable prospect of DHP being awarded
If a tenant fails to adhere to the court's agreement the landlord will return to the court to apply for a warrant for possession. A warrant for possession is granted then a hearing for eviction is set. This is when eviction occurs and you will receive date/time when the court bailiffs will be attending to evict you from the property. It is usually a month until the eviction date.
Even at this stage mitigating circumstances can be submitted (on form N224) and the eviction can be suspended/postponed. The N224 form can either be downloaded from HM Courts & Tribunal Services Website or from the court. On the form you must state the reasons why you have not been able to adhere to the agreed arrangement, ie you lost your job, your claim for housing benefit/DHP hasn't been processed yet.
- If you have an introductory tenancy you need to seek legal advice immediately, you do not have the same rights as above.
...and the exceptions
Housing associations (which control about half of social housing) issue tenancies that give significantly less rights than council tenants get. Some landlords plan to take advantage of this to ram evictions through the courts. The scale of the problem is likely to grow when the new 'Universal Credit' is introduced.
Before the Thatcher government's 1988 Housing Act housing associations gave 'secure tenancies', but the Tories introduced weaker 'Assured' tenancies to encourage banks to invest in housing. Disgracefully Labour did not reverse this.
Last year, before the bedroom tax, social landlords filed a whopping 96,742 possession claims in county courts and 65,054 were successful. But there are already reports of arrears rising and housing associations revising their procedures to make evictions easier.
Housing association tenancies include a way to evict known as 'Ground 8' which removes the court's discretion. Using other grounds landlords have to demonstrate to the court that their course of action is 'reasonable'; with Ground 8 they simply have to show that the tenant owes money. That means you can't argue that your housing benefit is about to come through tomorrow or other extenuating circumstances.
Most haven't used it as a matter of course in the past but many use it occasionally. A recent survey of housing associations by Inside Housing magazine found that 23 out of 37 respondents now plan to use Ground 8 to evict, with just eleven ruling it out.
Some associations have tried to limit the impact of the bedroom tax by reclassifying rooms. Well-known commentators such as Professor Steve Wilcox have expressed surprise that more associations have not gone down this route as the income loss can be small and offset by not having to spend on evicting people! Some argue that agreements with banks would have to be renegotiated; is that worse than evicting the poor? Campaigns to stop the use of Ground 8 are entirely winnable.
- Local authorities should call on associations to commit not to use Ground 8.
- Stock transfer agreements (where council housing has been transferred to associations) may include agreements that Ground 8 should not be used.
- Guidance from the now defunct Housing Corporation has not been superseded and requires that associations first pursue all other reasonable alternatives to recover debt. If they change their approach they need to consult tenants - being explicit about what changes they are making - and amend policies and tenancy agreements accordingly.
- Housing lawyers report that there are already cases where associations are trying to pull the wool over tenants' eyes, not being clear about the reasons for changes.
- It is possible to challenge Ground 8 evictions in the Courts if correct procedures have not been followed or if there is a counterclaim for disrepair. There is also developing case law (Pinnock and Powell cases) suggesting that the Human Rights Act could be used to stop these evictions.
Building a local campaign
1. Spread the word
Go door-to-door with a petition and leaflets advertising a meeting on the estate. Approach the press with the stories of those affected locally.
2. Clog up the system
Encourage those affected to do everything possible to make it difficult for the council. Don't fill in a rent direct debit, ask the council to 'look again' and then appeal. Apply for Discretionary Housing Payment.
3. Prepare to prevent evictions
It may take time to build up arrears but we should be preparing now. Get to know the law on evictions, organise lobbies of the courts if people have hearings and be prepared to mobilise supporters to physically block the way for bailiffs.
4. Put pressure on councils not to implement
Collect signatures on a petition pressuring the local council to refuse to implement the bedroom tax and to promise not to evict anyone who falls in rent arrears because of austerity measures. Organise protests outside council meetings and lobby individual councillors. At the next local elections, stand anti-bedroom tax candidates as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition against councillors who carry through the cuts.
Every week the Socialist is carrying reports of anti-bedroom tax campaigns around the country. Send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org