Archives for the month of: September, 2013

The following is a repost from the Infantile Disorder blog:

Over the last few weeks, the tide has been turning against the government over their imposition of the bedroom tax. The human rights report by Raquel Rolnik of the United Nations laid bare both the suffering of affected tenants and the fact that the coalition government holds them in utter contempt. And at this week’s Labour Party conference, Ed Miliband made a commitment to abolishing the bedroom tax should he come to power following the next general election.

Labour councils across the country – and particularly on Merseyside – issued statements of support for this decision. Liverpool’s Labour mayor Joe Anderson has used his Twitter account to voice his own personal opposition to the bedroom tax on a few occasions. This week was no different, as he tweeted “Thank you to all of the people who campaigned to persuade Labour to pledge to repeal Bedroom Tax, you deserve great credit.” But there was no response when the Merseyside Federation of Anti-Bedroom Tax Groups – whose members have been instrumental in organising on the issue locally – tweeted him “That’s fine, but will Liv council reassess every affected tenant as per the recent Fife rulings?”

Labour councils in Wirral, Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens and Halton have also refused to do anything to alleviate the agony of affected tenants, despite the Fife QC’s statement that it is incumbent on them to reassess ALL bedrooms on the grounds that:

“It’s up to the local authority to make its own decision that the landlord has accurately described the property. Because this is an appeal, it is now for me to decide what a bedroom is. In this case, the council has made a decision based on the landlord’s description but hasn’t even gone round to inspect the room.”

Furthermore, there have now been two rulings (1, 2) that rooms under seventy square feet cannot be counted as bedrooms, and usage must be taken into account. Still, Labour councils are refusing to step up to their responsibility. Just this week, Wirral council chief executive Graham Burgess deceptively and falsely replied to the South Wirral campaign that: “This [Fife] is a one off special case – it is unlikely that Wirral will be affected by it.” With the Department for Work and Pensions seeking leave to appeal, this position is unlikely to change any time soon.

If tenants can be found who are being charged bedroom tax for rooms of under seventy square feet, and if they have no existing arrears, a non-payment campaign could be an excellent way of forcing the issue. Of course, it would be up to the tenants concerned, and they would need support and solidarity from their local groups within the larger Federation. Still, combined with media attention-grabbing demonstrations, it could be a great tactic for embarrassing the local Labour politicians, and especially those who have made a show of opposing the bedroom tax.

The tide of legal rulings is turning in our favour! APPEAL APPEAL APPEAL!

ImageThe following is a repost from the Infantile Disorder blog.

This morning, a small but determined group of twenty demonstrators marched in South Wirral, demanding that the bedroom tax be finally ditched by the vicious and incompetent Tory/Lib Dem coalition which introduced it.

The demonstration walked the two miles from Bromborough Rake train station to Eastham One Stop Shop, where appeal letters were handed in. In comparison to the demonstration called by a single Rock Ferry estate in July, there were relatively fewer participants from the local community, as distinct from those activists showing their solidarity. However, the event was almost certainly the first protest ever to take place in Bromborough, and the noisy chants will have raised much awareness of the local group.

The route showed something of the class divides which can exist even within the same town, with some parts more mansion tax than bedroom tax. There were whispers of “how the other half live”, as we passed immaculately kept massive lawns and multiple expensive cars parked on driveways. It was noted that the general public in these areas barely looked at the march. Then down the road we passed through an impoverished area with shuttered shops and (very artistic) graffiti everywhere. Here drivers waved their support, and two teenage boys whose teachers were “on strike” ran alongside and shouted for their friends to join in.

The Merseyside Federation of Anti-Bedroom Tax Groups is recommending that all affected tenants appeal, or re-appeal based on the Fife tribunal rulings. Fife council has now accepted that it went beyond its powers when it accepted the word of housing associations on how many bedrooms are in each property for bedroom tax purposes, without carrying out their own assessment based on ‘bedroom’ size, useable size, and room useage. Wirral council has so far given no reply to the South Wirral campaign’s open letter, demanding that they do the same.

The Fife judgement means ALL bedroom tax deductions are appealable! Here’s how to do it…

07/03/13 man in a small room - lullington, swadMerseyside Federation of anti-Bedroom Tax Groups Press release 19 September 2013

Following a first-tier benefit tribunal judgement* against Fife Council that a room of less than 70 sq ft is not a bedroom for bedroom tax purposes, an emergency meeting agreed today that this will now become official council policy. Earlier in the week the council announced that it would not appeal against the tribunal ruling. In separate judgements over the last two weeks, the benefit tribunal in Kirkcaldy has ruled that room purpose, usage and usable space are also issues that councils need to take into account in determining a tenant’s liability for the bedroom tax.

Secretary of Merseyside Federation of anti-Bedroom Tax Groups Juliet Edgar says: “This is is an important and very welcome decision. We have always said the process that councils went through in determining bedroom tax liability was fundamentally flawed since they did not take into account the space standards of the 1985 Housing Act or individual circumstances. Fife Council has set a precedent: we now insist that councils on Merseyside follow immediately.”

There are thousands of properties on Merseyside where tenants are paying bedroom tax for room less than 70 sq ft. The 1985 Housing Act space standard says that this is too small to serve as a bedroom for an adult. Councils and housing associations will now have to face up to the prospect of undertaking individual surveys of tens of thousands of social housing properties across Merseyside to record individual room sizes, their purpose and the use that is made of them. It is expected that at least 30% of all bedroom tax decisions will have to be set aside as a result.

Ms Edgar comments: “This is is an exercise that will take months. In the meantime, we demand that all existing bedroom tax decisions are set aside. Why should tenants continue to pay a tax for which they are not liable while councils do the job that they should have done at the outset?”

For further information contact Juliet Edgar on 07528194137

* Judgements SC108/13/01362 and SC108/13/01318. For a more detailed assessment of both judgements and their significance see speye.wordpress.com

ImageNew Kirkcaldy judgement torpedoes bedroom tax – again!

In a further and in some ways even more significant judgement (SC108/13/01362)*, the Kirkcaldy Benefit Tribunal has ruled that any room of less than 70 sq ft cannot be a bedroom for bedroom tax purposes. The judge has used the A4/2012 regulations to arrive at this conclusion, in Paragraph 63 and Annex C where the Secretary of State suggests that claimants with additional rooms should consider taking in a lodger. 

The judge has explicitly decided that under-occupancy can be seen as the flip side of overcrowding, and that statutory space standards set out for England in the 1985 Housing Act are relevant for bedroom tax decisions. These state that rooms of 50 to 70 sq ft are appropriate for use as sleeping accommodation by a young child (up to the age of 10) but not an adult.The judge also accepted that having regard to Circular A4/2012, that paragraph B13(5) generally presupposes that to be classified as a bedroom a room should be large enough to be appropriate for use as a bedroom by an adult (a possible lodger) – or by two children.

Wirral Council has stated that the 1985 Housing Act Section 326 space standards are irrelevant for bedroom tax purposes – the council is wrong, and our campaign has always said so. The judgment means that every Wirral tenant with any room less than 70 sq ft for which they are paying bedroom tax MUST APPEAL, since they stand a great chance of winning.

In the light of these Kirkcaldy judgments, we demand that Wirral council’s executive team, and Wirral councillors now accept that the process they went through to determine bedroom tax liability was fundamentally flawed, and immediately set to work with tenants and housing associations to review every bedroom tax decision they have made.

South Wirral Campaign against the Bedroom Tax 13 September 2013

For further information contact Robert Claridge 07956 458 331

*See earlier judgement SC108/1301318. For a more detailed assessment of both judgements and their significance see speye.wordpress.com

Panel Discussion with:
Adam Ford, Joe Halewood, Lynn Hancock and Gerry Mooney
October 14th – 5pm-7pm
Liverpool John Moores University
John Foster Building,
80-90 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool

One year on since the introduction of welfare reforms – such as welfare caps, bedroom tax and the reassessment of incapacity benefits – we have witnessed a collective struggle where communities have joined forces to resist the state and protect our rights to housing, privacy and family life. People experiencing mental health issues and physical disabilities, single female headed households, tenants between the ages of 16 and 35 and tenants housed in high rent areas have so far been hit the hardest by these welfare reforms. This session invites people to relate experiences of community-based protests and what the future holds for these. It will do so by drawing upon the approaches and tactics used so far by activists, housing experts, lawyers and academics to support communities who have been gravely and directly affected by welfare reforms.

1209117_636632099704226_1983482848_nIt was with some trepidation that we awoke this morning to the knowledge that the hard work was about to start again, but it was mixed with the buzz and excitement that we were back doing the actions that brought us together in the first place, fighting the bedroom tax. The camaraderie had returned as well as the smiles.

Running late and being a team member down we packed our bags, and armed with all manner of leaflets we walked the short journey to Walton Road One Stop Shop and pitched up directly outside. First task, blagging a Non Resident Overnight Carer Form whilst we prepared the table for the day.

This event was an indication of the changing relationships in the timeline of the bedroom tax as the One Stop Shop staff were polite and nonplussed when we informed them of the planned action outside. We talked of the recent Fife tribunals and of the damning statement of Raquel Rolnik, the UN Rapporteur and the staff at the OSS did not recognise the significance of the verdict or the statement that we as activists seemed to embrace. Perhaps they have family concerns and important issues happening in their lives and this is only a job and a means of keeping a roof over their heads and food in the bellies of their children.

From quite a slow start we were then approached by two ladies in different stages of the Discretionary Housing Payment process. Both had received it but one lady had been told her entitlement had now ceased and she would no longer be entitled to the DHP to help pay for her bedroom – less than 70sq feet – and she would have to explore other ways in which to pay for her spare bedroom. Her income had remained unchanged so how she was expected to pay this is unclear. Maybe the national lottery, William Hill or Cash Converters are the other insidious avenues central government deem she should explore.

The next half a dozen people who stopped at the stall before going into the OSS hadn’t appealed. They knew they could in some cases, but did not know how to go about it. We took them through the process from initial appeal through to DHPs with advice on what to pay, as well as general information on the BT and what constitutes a bedroom according to councils and housing associations.

When we formed together as a group around the stall to discuss the BT we found people empathised and related to each other in many ways and opened up to each other offering personal support, help and exchange of information, relevant to illness, disability and housing issues. Some offered to help out as they felt empowered and wanted to aid others in the same plight. Kinship and bonds, no matter how short, took place and it may or may not be a scouse thing but it was fascinating to witness. Some people we encountered had been refused DHPs so work will be needed to press for reconsideration in their cases. The Fife tribunal judgements from QC Collins will help favourably.

This may all seem routine but then we are confronted with two examples of the inhumanity and the worst scenarios of this diabolical TAX on the poorest, most vulnerable members of our community. Woman A, who is recovering from cancer, had left her sick bed to come to OSS and query her BT whilst accompanied by her elderly mum. She is still under the care of district nurses and had a bag attached. She was unable to undergo chemotherapy as her surgical wound had not healed. With advice and kindly assistance from the group and the staff at the OSS, she went home reassured and with the outcome of her DHP hopefully guaranteed and more able to carry on with her recuperation. Woman B was a mother of two young children having to share a room. The problem was that one child had Asperger’s Syndrome and needs to have his own room as he keeps his brother awake when bedtime comes, or at other times a brother needs to do schoolwork or is suffering illness.

This is a flavour of the experiences of the impact of the bedroom tax, as could be witnessed most days in any community. multiply that by 660,000 affected households and we see the absurdity and the cruelty of this ill-conceived policy. There is a grace and dignity in all of this as I have never witnessed before in my life, and I’m sure it is shared by all activists in the grassroots movement, the group of people affected go away after sharing their stories a lot cheerier for a short time, but they go home to their BT-impacted dwelling to fret and worry and hopefully take up the offer of help that we are only to happy to provide.

This is a breakdown of the room size implications of the Fife bedroom tax judgements. 25% of affected tenants should be able to win appeals on these grounds alone!

Britain Cuts ProtestThe purpose of this post is to provide a brief guide to what is referred to as ‘Ground 8’, ‘Ground 10’, ‘Ground 11’ & ‘Ground 12’. There are fears that housing associations may use Ground 8 as an excuse for ordering the quick eviction of a tenant for non-payment of rent particularly in association with the bedroom tax. However, recent experience is that housing associations in Merseyside are also looking to use ‘Ground 10’, ‘Ground 11’ & ‘Ground 12’.

There is scarcely any council housing stock on Merseyside – 99% of social housing is owned by quasi-public housing associations. Council tenants would have had what is known as a secure tenancy regulated by the 1985 Housing Act. Housing Association tenants whose tenancy agreements predate 1989 may still have secure tenancies; these are regulated by the 1985 Housing Act. Since 1989, however, tenancy agreements are almost certainly either assured or assured short-hold tenancies, which are regulated by the 1988 Housing Act. These tenancies have fewer rights than secure tenancies. Section 8 of the 1988 Act provides 21 grounds on which a landlord can seek eviction of a tenant through the courts. There are two grounds which relate to rent arrears – 8 and 10.

Ground 8 reads: “Both at the date of the service of the notice under section 8 of this Act relating to the proceedings for possession and at the date of the hearing— (a) if rent is payable weekly or fortnightly, at least [‘eight weeks’] rent is unpaid; (b if rent is payable monthly, at least [‘two months’] rent is unpaid; (c) if rent is payable quarterly, at least one quarter’s rent is more than three months in arrears; and (d) if rent is payable yearly, at least three months’ rent is more than three months in arrears; and for the purpose of this ground “rent” means rent lawfully due from the tenant.”

Essentially, if you are an assured tenant and your rent arrears exceeds the equivalent of eight weeks rent (if you pay weekly) or two months (if you pay monthly) then your housing association can seek your eviction on Ground 8. They have to send you a letter giving you two weeks’ notice to reduce or clear the arrears. If after the two weeks your arrears are still greater than eight weeks or two months the housing association can get a court order for your eviction. The point about Ground 8 is that the court has no discretion over the matter; it has to rubber-stamp the order. All it can do is request a delay for exceptional circumstances.

Ground 10 can be invoked when some rent lawfully due from the tenant is unpaid on the date on which the proceedings for possession are begun; and except where subsection (1)(b) of Section 8 of this Act applies, was in arrears at the date of service of the notice under that section relating to those proceedings. Section (1)(b) reads that there is no need for a landlord to issue a notice if ‘2he court considers it just and equitable to dispense with the requirements of such a notice.”

As things currently stand, Ground 10 is a ‘catch all’ – it can be invoked whatever the level of arrears. The covering letter from some housing associations is very intimidating with threats of repossession and county court judgements. It is being issued to terrify tenants into paying off the arrears and taking out a standing order to cover future payments – this is what happened with the first case we came across. It is discretionary – in other words, a court has no obligation to seek repossession and since some of the arrears cited has been very small (£136) it is unlikely that it would.

Ground 11 I have not seen this used as yet, but given its wording it might well be – whether or not any rent is in arrears on the date on which proceedings for possession are begun, the tenant has persistently delayed paying rent, which has become lawfully due. Again, this is discretionary.

Ground 12 can be invoked when any obligation of the tenancy (other than one related to the payment of rent) has been broken or not performed. Again, this is discretionary.