The Socialist 26 March 2014 |
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Adventures in bedroom tax land
Karen Fletcher, Barnsley
As we are coming up to the first anniversary of the introduction of the bedroom tax I thought it would be a good time to look at my year. I have not made any of this up.
I knew we were affected but I did not appreciate the impact of this idiotic tax. I honestly believe it is the single most mindless act of legislative stupidity I have come across.
On my birthday I attended my first bedroom tax meeting. The meeting was well supported and included one of my local councillors. I admit I was not impressed by what he had to say.
From this moment on the campaign owned me. I cancelled my rent direct debit and asked for a payment card.
Three weeks later I had no payment card but I was the proud owner of a Notice of Intent to Seek Possession (NOSP).
For the princely sum of £74. My totally weekly rent is actually £81. It took another four weeks and umpteen phone calls before I finally got a payment card.
As I am disabled having a card that required me to find a pay-point every week was not a sensible choice on my part.
Standing in a queue when you have arthritis and fybromyalgia is not really an option. It soon became clear that this was not working and in October I ended up in the local County Court with an eviction order.
I have no problems with how my individual case was dealt with insofar as I got the adjournment I sought.
It was based purely on the grounds that I had put in an appeal against the imposition of the bedroom tax based on tribunal decisions over the preceding months.
What concerned me was the blanket rulings that affected all those present that day. 14 cases were heard in less than 90 minutes. Nothing was discussed.
I decided I needed to consult a local solicitor and as the duty solicitor had been quite good I figured the same firm would serve me well.
I walked into the office and tried to explain my concerns about the way the court had handled the 14 cases and that a repeat of that was unacceptable.
The solicitor was one of those people who decide why you are there and what is good for you. In this case my tribunal, but as it had only got as far as a letter of acknowledgement and any hearing was months away I made my excuses and left.
We now move on to 28 January and the date of my adjourned hearing. I arrived at the court in plenty of time to see the duty solicitor.
It was the same one I had seen and rejected a month earlier. I spoke to her anyway. I said I just wanted an adjournment... and that was as far as I got before she lit into me.
Apparently she doesn't "just do adjournments". Anyway she eventually toddled off to speak to the representative from the council.
When she eventually reappeared I was told that my case had been withdrawn. I asked her what that meant and her response was (and I quote) "it means it has been withdrawn".
So that was enlightening. I didn't know why it had been withdrawn or what happened to the NOSP. I could guess but that was hardly the point.
I'd arranged for another Socialist Party member to act as my McKenzie Friend in court. The journey was not easy as she has mobility problems.
So it would have been polite to tell me beforehand that the case had been withdrawn. The council or the Almo could have done me the courtesy of a phone call.
How many people spent a considerable proportion of their meagre benefits getting to court? When your income is £70 a week then £4 is a lot of money to waste on bus fares.
When I got home from court I rang the council to find out where I stood on the question of the NOSP. This was one of the funniest conversations I have had in a long time.
I was told that the NOSP would not be withdrawn because when it was issued there was rent outstanding.
Finally I was asked to answer the yes or no question of was I in arrears on the date the NOSP was issued?
When I replied 'no' I was told I was delusional.
I am now in the position that, as I qualified for exemption from the bedroom tax under the 1996 rule, I am having to fight for the money to be paid back to me and not put on my rent account. The same goes for the DHP they owe me.
This should be a simple process. Not on your life! On the one hand the local authority is tasking staff to ring people and arrange payment while at the same time they are sending letters stating that they are acting within social security rules by putting the outstanding amount on my rent account. They can't even agree on the amount outstanding.
If I have it on my rent account it amounts to almost double what I am owed in cash. Apparently the cash amount is reduced because I am in arrears. I am really not sure how to be in arrears on a debt I don't even owe!
I also have to start the appeals process regarding housing benefit reduction for so-called spare rooms from the very beginning.
Confused! You have no idea
The Socialist Party says:
- Scrap the bedroom tax and write off all the debt
- Defend all those who cannot or will not pay
- No evictions for rent arrears due to the tax or austerity cuts. Build an anti-eviction army
- End all cuts - tax the bankers and the billionaires not bedrooms
- For a major programme of new council house building to meet social need
- Support the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in the 22 May local elections to fight for councillors who would rule out eviction for bedroom tax and fight the cuts