For Immediate Release – 23/9/2013
Nottingham Bedroom Tax Eviction Prevention Protocol does not prevent evictions but shifts blame onto the tenant.
Contacts: Cathy Meadows 07913476905
Email: defendcounciltaxbenefits [at] yahoo.co.uk
A campaign group has criticised a new Nottingham Bedroom Tax Eviction Protocol[i] signed by social housing landlords including Nottingham City Council, saying that it will not prevent evictions, it offers nothing that tenants could not already access, and potentially blames tenants it they are evicted.
The report[ii] by Nottingham Defend Council Tax Benefits Campaign criticises the protocol for implying that arrears are caused by tenants’ inability to “budget”. It also refers to a UN report which says the Bedroom Tax may be a violation of human rights and the recent announcement by the Labour Party that it will abolish the Bedroom Tax, and concludes that the only acceptable solution to the social, health and monetary costs of the Bedroom Tax is for Nottingham City Council to use its position by publicly stating that it will not evict anyone because of Bedroom Tax arrears and encouraging other Nottingham social landlords to do the same.
[i] The Eviction Prevention Protocol was signed by Nottingham City Council, Nottingham City Homes, Nottingham Community Housing Association and ASRA Housing Group on 14 September 2013.
[ii] The report is attached to email (this follows below)
Nottingham Defend Council Tax Benefits Campaign response to Evictions Prevention Protocol
Nottingham City Council, Nottingham City Homes, Nottingham Community Housing Association and ASRA Housing Group have signed up to an “Eviction Prevention Protocol” to prevent evictions caused by the Bedroom Tax.
Nottingham Defend Council Tax Benefits Campaign opposes this protocol because:
• It will not prevent evictions.
• It does not offer anything to tenants which they could not access anyway.
• It sets up tenants to be blamed when evictions occur.
• It abandons tenants who don’t “engage” when they may be the most vulnerable.
• It uses vague terms such as “engaging” with housing providers and “realistic and affordable.” payment plans, without explaining who defines these terms and what they mean (ie. what is expected from tenants).
• It puts too much emphasis on Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs), which are temporary, limited, and discretionary.
• It presents the issue of financial hardship caused by the Bedroom Tax as an issue of budgeting, rather than the real issue, which is that people can only avoid rent arrears by using money which is meant for food, fuel, bills, clothes. This implies that if eviction occurs it is the tenant’s fault.
The protocol says housing providers will request a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) for every tenant suffering financial hardship who “engages” with tenancy sustainment teams.
• The term “engaging” is not explained. What exactly is expected of tenants, and who decides whether tenants are “engaging” or not? Many tenants affected by the Bedroom Tax are some of the most vulnerable people in society, who may lack the support to be able to deal with the additional stress caused by the Bedroom Tax.
• Tenants are already free to request DHPs themselves or through advice agencies and there is no guarantee that requesting a DHP will mean a tenant will receive one. Some tenants have received a DHP in repect of bedroom tax arrears while others have been refused. Furthermore, DHPs are temporary so tenants have to apply repeatedly with all the uncertainty that entails.
The agreement states that Credit Union accounts which help tenants to prioritise rent and other bills are also being offered to tenants facing court action.
• All tenants are already free to open Credit Union accounts – at a cost of 50p per month – so the agreement is not offering anything new.
The protocol states that affected tenants will be expected to set up and keep to an affordable payment plan.
• A tenant in Bedroom Tax arrears faces a weekly demand for rent which they cannot afford. The protocol does not explain how such a tenant would suddenly be able to afford a payment plan to pay off their bedroom tax debt.
• The protocol does not acknowledge that arrears would continue to accumulate since the bedroom tax is ongoing and that this would lead to eviction.
The protocol does not acknowledge the extreme emotional and monetary hardship being experienced by those households who are not yet in arrears. Households can only pay bedroom tax by cutting down on food, fuel, transport, clothes etc. We know of households who are experiencing extreme hardship and poverty – the protocol does not address this.
By emphasising budgeting, priorities and advice the protocol implies that bedroom tax arrears is caused by tenants’ inability to budget and lack of information. This is clearly not the case. Arrears are caused by tenants being asked to pay towards rent (and council tax) from living expenses meant for food, fuel, clothes, transport etc. Budgetting solutions are unsustainable and set up tenants to fail and be blamed, putting huge pressure on households and leading to evictions.
The social health and monetary costs of the Bedroom Tax, which are hitting vulnerable households, communities and the social housing sector, are unacceptable and unsustainable. A recent UN report says that the Bedroom Tax may be a violation of human rights, and the Labour Party have now announced that they will abolish the Bedroom Tax. In view of this, the only effective way of protecting households from eviction is for the council to use its position to implement a no evictions policy and to encourage other social housing providers to do the same.
Nottingham Defend Council Tax Benefit Campaign calls on Nottingham City Council and all Nottingham Social Housing Providers to:
Publicly state that they will not evict anyone because of Bedroom Tax arrears.
Recall all notices of seeking possession and eviction notices relating to bedroom tax arrears.
Acknowledge that Bedroom Tax arrears are not caused by tenants inability to budget.
Use all of its DHP budget (including reserves it is permitted to use) to reduce Bedroom Tax arrears (at August 2013 only one fifth of the budget had been used).
With other social landlords and campaigners persistently explain and publicise the social and monetary costs and unsustainability of the Bedroom Tax to Central Government.
Demand that Central Government take responsibility for this policy and the potential damage to the social housing sector, by demanding it makes up the shortfall in rental income to social housing providers caused by bedroom tax arrears.
Demand that Central Government abolish the bedroom tax.