Sedgemoor Exec ‘wobbles’ on Bedroom tax ‘No Evictions’ policy

Wednesday, 2 April 2014
bedroom tax protest
Cllr Mick Lerry with anti-bedroom tax protestors outside Sedgemoor District Council

After months of campaigning against the iniquitous ‘Bedroom Tax’ including motions from the Sedgemoor Labour Group, a Petition from the Bridgwater Peoples Assembly, and supportive recommendations from the Council’s own Corporate Scrutiny committee, the proposals, to ‘write to the LGA (Local Government Association) outlining the impact of the Bedroom tax on the residents of Sedgemoor’ and to support a ‘no evictions’ policy, came before the Council’s executive committee – only to be shunted sideways to the Homes in Sedgemoor board for comment before any decision is made.

Cllr Brian Smedley (Labour Chair of Corporate Scrutiny committee) presented the recommendations from his cross party committee at the Executive saying “The Bedroom tax or ‘spare room subsidy’ was introduced a year ago and affects about half a million people around the country. It works by imposing an accumulating penalty on working age tenants deemed to have more bedrooms than they need. The result has been an evidenced increase in hardship. The Labour party under a FOI request identified some 50,000 people wrongly subjected to it. 10 times more than the official estimates. The Labour party believes that the bedroom tax has caused the most visible poverty and heartache of all the coalition’s welfare changes and has pledged to repeal it. The coalition has recognised some of the mistakes and has ended up throwing more money at it to try to make it work. But it isn’t.”

Cllr Smedley continue “A petition was presented to this council by local residents asking us to urge the Government to repeal the ‘bedroom tax’ and also to commit to ‘no evictions’. The Council considered the petition and voted to refer it to my committee for further investigation. We did this and concluded that these particular welfare reforms do make things more difficult for some people and that whilst the support measures put in place by this council to attempt to buffer the impact of the legislation are being used by people we would ask you to support these recommendations in order to best meet the spirit of the petition.”

Impact on Sedgemoor residents

no evictions
Cllr Brian Smedley presents the recommendations for a ‘No Evictions’ policy

Cllr Smedley listed the key steps that he felt should be taken by the Council as an appropriate response.

1. To write to the Local Government Association outlining the impact of the bedroom tax on the residents of Sedgemoor. These impacts should include;-

i) There are clearly holes in the legislation –it is vaguely worded and not really addressing ‘under-occupation’.

ii) It is a Draconian law –which lacks specification and is therefore unfair.

iii) It is causing real hardship. Locally 599 people had their Housing Benefit reduced

iv) Discretionary Housing Payments at the same time have doubled and whilst DHP may be a ‘useful tool’ the evidence is that it’s not cost effective for the result.

v) It penalises the most vulnerable-and this is what the Government said it wouldn’t do

vi) There is increased evidence that people are using foodbanks and cutting back on essential household bills to plug funding gaps

vii) There is further evidence of an increase in homelessness

viii) It is also clear that 2/3 of the households affected by the bedroom tax have fallen into arrears and that 1 in 7 of these have received eviction notices. These are statistics provided by the NHF (National Housing Federation) dated February 2014

Policy of ‘No Evictions’

2. To operate a Policy of No Evictions for rent arrears ‘due solely to the introduction of the bedroom tax’

i) SDC has correctly adopted a policy of ‘second chance’ thus far , identifying people who are threatened because of the bedroom tax and who may as a consequence be struggling, informing them that there may be DHP available-however there are also people affected ‘through rent arrears ‘and who were similarly ‘recently impacted by welfare reform’ –but that these cases also had significant ‘pre welfare reform’ issues. It is therefore clear that the council has applied to the court for more cases of eviction. What we are asking here for is a policy of no evictions ‘for rent arrears solely arising from the bedroom tax’. This acknowledges that most cases are somewhat interdependent.

ii) Some other Councils have a similar ‘No evictions’ policy. Here they adopted the same principle as we are proposing -that the criteria ’solely’ means that it would take several years for people to build up arrears ‘solely’ due to bedroom tax to reach an ammount which would normally lead to an eviction and so by the time people reach the evictable level it will at this stage only be for reasons whereby bedroom tax is just a factor in an otherwise large debt.

Mick lerry at lectern
Cllr Mick Lerry -calls to ‘build council housing’ and ‘address issues of inequality’

iii) The key thing about any policy of eviction is that it should be seen as a ‘policy of last resort’ –this is compatible with a policy for eviction ‘solely’ due to bedroom tax and in this sense correct policy to advise people that they won’t be evicted just because of bedroom tax arrears but that their arrear has to be of considerable concern and after all other measures of remediation have been tried. I believe that’s what we’re proposing and that can be accommodated within the Sedgemoor corporate policy for the duration – hopefully limited, of the Bedroom tax’s existence.

Cllr Mick Lerry (Lab, Victoria) said “Twenty people a day are visiting CAB about debt issues and Bedroom tax is a large part of this. Personally I think the resolutions could be stronger and include measures to build Council Housing and address the broader issue of inequality.”

Cllr Julian Taylor (Lab,Eastover) said “The Local Authorities are on the frontline here and expected to cover up the cracks in the system. Young people can’t even think about becoming part of some ‘property owning democracy’ when house prices are well beyond what people can afford and at the same time wages have declined in real terms.”

“They knew what was coming”

Acting Chair of the Executive and Deputy leader Cllr Dawn Hill (Con,Cheddar) stopped Cllr Taylor in his tracks saying he was “Going off the subject” and then continued herself “For Sedgemoor the issue is how to deal with it. We recognise the issues of ‘debt’ and the role of the ‘CAB’ but we have to concern ourselves with the way Sedgemoor ‘delivers’ this policy in a way that people suffer less because we have taken steps to ensure that people knew what was coming. I believe this is a matter for Homes in Sedgemoor and so I propose that before we make any decision the Board of Homes in Sedgemoor be asked to take a position on this policy.”

Cllr Smedley commented afterward “Sedgemoor have now shunted this measure sideways and so we will have to wait a little longer to see if they will accept what is quite a moderate policy position which has thus far received cross party support.”

The Sedgemoor Executive Resolution reads; – “That the matter be referred to the board of Homes in Sedgemoor to consider whether such a policy should be pursued as any proposed policy concerning evictions arising from the implementation of the bedroom tax is a matter for the Homes in Sedgemoor Board to determine whether or not to amend their rent arrears procedure to reflect such concerns.”