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.

ALL TENANTS FACING BEDROOM TAX ARREARS/EVICTIONS SHOULD APPEAL! Here’s why…

JM310713BEDROOMTAX-1-5430511If you are a housing association tenant and have difficulty paying your rent – including the new bedroom tax which came into force on 1st April 2013 – you will have received letters, phone calls, texts, messages and visits to your home from your housing association to make arrangements to clear your rent arrears. You are maybe one of the 27, 215 tenants in Merseyside who cannot afford to pay the bedroom tax.

You may have already received a Notice Seeking Possession, giving you notice of the intention of your housing association to seek possession of your home through the court. We in the anti-bedroom movement across Merseyside can help you to fight the bedroom tax. It is extremely important that you seek help as soon as possible. The possession of your home and/or actual eviction can be stopped if you seek help and support urgently.

There is help available from anti-bedroom tax groups across Merseyside, many of them meeting on a weekly basis in community venues in your area. Some also run anti-bedroom tax surgeries to assist you in appealing the bedroom tax decision made by your local council, and submitting a Discretionary Housing Payment form to request help towards your rent.

Merseyside Anti-bedroom Tax Facebook Groups:-

Canning, Combat the Bedroom Tax Dovecot, Communities Against the Bedroom Tax (Kirkby), Dingle, Garston & Speke, Granby, Leasowe, Norris Green, Old Swan Against the Cuts, ReClaim, South Wirral, Stand Up in Bootle, Stand Up in Halton, Stand Up in Huyton, Vauxhall/Scotland Road, Wallasey, Warrington Against the Bedroom Tax.

Weekly information and support surgeries:

1. CASA – UNITE – Initiative Factory, Hope Street, Liverpool.

Fridays 2-5pm. Contact Celia Ralph/Paul Jones on 07579203969.

2. ReClaim – Upstairs at the Peacock Pub, 355 Westminister Road, Kirkdale, L4 3TF.

Fridays 3.30-6.30pm. Contact Juliet Edgar/Mick Bennett on 07528194137.

3. Combat the Bedroom Tax Dovecot – Dovecot MAC, L14 9BA.

Wednesdays – 2-4 pm. Contact Linda Green on 07760461701.

4. Old Swan Against the Cuts – Old Swan Youth Centre, 23 Derby Lane, Liverpool, L13 6QA.

Tuesdays – 5.30-7pm. Contact Ruth or Sheila at Old Swan Youth Centre on 0151 225 1574.

5. Communities Against the Bedroom Tax – Sacred Heart social club, Northwood, Kirkby

Tuesdays – 7pm.

A Kirkcaldy Benefits Tribunal has made a judgement which opens the way for hundreds of thousands of appeals, and which drives a coach and horses through the ConDem Coalition’s hated Bedroom Tax.

In an appeal against Fife Council’s decision that a tenant of what the landlord said was a three-bedroomed property had to pay for ‘under-occupying’ two bedrooms, the Tribunal judge ruled that the property in question in fact had just one bedroom, and the tenant was not liable for any bedroom tax. The judge also ruled that the Council must refund the tenant all the housing benefit it had deducted since its original decision. Crucially the judgement also makes clear that a council:

  • cannot make a reliable bedroom tax decision on the assumption that data submissions from a landlord on bedroom numbers are correct;
  • must know the room purpose and usage as at the time it makes the benefit tax decision for that decision to be reliable;
  • must consider not just room size in making a decision but also usable floor space.

The process in determining bedroom tax liability across Merseyside was no different from that adopted by Fife council: every bedroom tax decision made by Wirral, Liverpool, Sefton, Knowsley and Halton councils is therefore arbitrary and rife for challenge and must be appealed by every affected tenant.

Merseyside Federation will continue its work to ensure that tenants know they have both a right and a responsibility to appeal against this vicious attack on the poor.

Axe the Bedroom Tax!

For further information contact: –
Merseyside Federation of Anti-Bedroom Tax Groups
Juliet Edgar (Secretary)  on 07528194137 and/or Adam Ford (Press Officer) on 07530000151

For a more detailed assessment of the judgement and its significance see speye.wordpress.com