Labour calls on councils to vote against Bedroom Tax


by Newswire    
10:59 pm - April 1st 2013

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The Labour party is to call on all councils to oppose the Bedroom tax and vote against it, in a surprising move announced tonight.

The move underscores the strength of feeling at the top of the Labour party that tax would disproportionately hit disabled people while millionaires were getting tax cuts.

A statement by Hilary Benn MP, Labour’s Shadow Local Government Secretary, said tonight:

We are saying to Lib Dems and other councillors who care about their constituents, look at the damage the bedroom tax will cause and let’s stand up against this unfair policy which has not been properly thought-out.

It’s hard to imagine that Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors would want to stand silently by as hundreds of thousands of their own constituents, two thirds of them disabled, are hit by the bedroom tax imposed by their leaders in Westminster.

So far only a small number of councils have chosen to vote against the Bedroom Tax and refuse to implement it.

Labour’s bold move is likely to take the fight against the Tax to local councils and put even more pressure on Lib Dems and Tory councillors supporting it.

Labour say that motions opposing the bedroom tax are being tabled by Labour in councils around England.

Lib Dem and Tory councillors will be asked by their Labour councillors to put party differences aside and join Labour in standing up for their constituents.

Update: For example, Labour run Nottingham council are re-defining two-bed council homes as one bed to get round the Bedroom tax.

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Reader comments


Problem is I can’t see how councils are able to ‘refuse to implement’ the bedroom tax without setting an illegal budget. Essentially those subject to the tax will continue to build up rent arrears. What happens then? Are we hoping that councils will simply write them off each year? The auditors will love that and it will create a massive hole in the budget.

Lovely idea but to be any use we need to know some practicalities on how it can be achieved.

This is surely an April Fool? How can councils ‘refuse to implement’ a reduction in housing benefit?

That’s pretty ambiguous – it doesn’t actually say that they’re being asked to refuse to implement it, just that they’re being told to ‘vote against’ it – which I suspect means they’re just going to pass motions saying how nasty it all is and then get on with implementing it anyway.

And in answer to Andy, if people refuse to pay in anything like significant numbers it will cost councils more to pursue them than they’d get in bedroom tax over the next few years, so it could actually save them money.

4. Hannah Batten

Finally, some sense. This is going to cost the taxpayer *so* much more money. No houses to force people in to and private rents will force the housing benefit claims sky high…. What morons, hopefully it’ll be scrapped ASAP!!

Does this mean merely passing motions condemning the bedroom tax? Or looking at ways to actually fight it, e.g. paying the shortfall from DHP’s and council funds, implementing non-eviction policies, reclassifying homes etc?

If it’s the latter, then great – would be a surprise though.

I am disabled and regarded by the govt as a scrounger. Even God doesnt do that. Fortunately i am a pensioner so i am exempt the cuts but i feel very sorry for the young who are affected. The modern tories are medieval lords treating us as serfs.

Richard

People cannot refuse to pay it. It’s deducted from benefit payments before they even get it.

I’d be more impressed if they hadn’t abstained on the vote to make government law-breaking retrospectively legal – an appalling thing to allow!

The bedroom tax will probably have the effect of driving housing associations into bankruptcy – which may be time for Slumco PLC to take our remaining public housing stock off their hands.

John D Clare, call Bristol Council and ask them. They did.

Paul, I suspect what Richard means is that people may refuse to pay the rent shortfalls that result.

The problem with councils allowing those arrears to build up is that it end up being very unpopular with working tenants who could be facing financial issues of their own.

And as I say, there’s no way that auditors would sign that off.

What gets me is the minimum amount the law says you need to live on is what you get paid yet they expect people to pay out of that income, I’m disabled, too many health issues and if I can’t afford to pay then how on earth am I meant to move

This has moved milliband up in my estimation of him but will councils listen to him. Now it’s implemented can it be reversed? More so, if labour won next election and I hope they do (I always been Tory but they have gone too far now) would they get rid of this cruel attack on the poor/vulnerable and disabled like myself?. I became disabled during service in Iraq. Now I’m made to feel like a burden on society. How will this get me back to employment? That’s what osbourne says it will do. I am extremely angry with this government. It actually feels like a dictatorship with a disabled cleansing in mind. Shame on you and I hope you’re punished come the next general and even local elections.

Richard your wrong there. Under the new “universal credit” it is left to you to pay rent.just as in the private sector now.

Whoops, sorry Richard. That was aimed at Paul not you.

15. The Judge

As others have said, what does vote against actually mean? If it’s just a token gesture, then Labour is being it’s customary vapid self. Especially as Labour spokespeople have admitted that they won’t repeal the measure if returned to office (scarcely surprising, since they introduced it for private-sector tenants five years ago).

Why won’t Milliband just tell his Labour-controlled councils to adopt a policy of refusing to evict people who fall into arrears because of the Bedroom Tax? The Green council in Brighton has already done this, as have SNP-controlled councils in Scotland (whilst Scottish Labour – if such a doubly oxymoronic term can be used – have just sat and whinged at the SNP government).

Neil H. It all seems very inchoate, even in Bristol,whose Mayor has promised a ‘no evictions’ policy, which is slightly different to voting ‘*against the tax*’.

A no-eviction policy is only any good if it includes a promise to write off people’s accumulating rent-arrears debts.
Without such a promise, all a no-eviction policy does is entice people to accumulate an ever-growing debt that will stay with them for the rest of their lives, which most of them will never be in a position to pay off – and which those whose incomes do improve will find themselves losing any advantage from that increased income for years and years because they will have to be using it paying off their rent arrears. Without the promise of writing off all accumulated arrears, a no-eviction policy is nothing but a form of entrapment. There are better – more proactive – ways to help prevent people getting into trouble as a result of the bedroom tax.
On the other hand, if the no-eviction policy *is* accompanied by a policy to write off rent-arrears debts, then it cannot be extended merely to people who get in arrears. You cannot have a policy which lets people who scrimp and save and go without to pay their rent suffer, but pays out to people who don’t or fail to do so. Thus – if you are going to write off *some* people’s rent arrears, you have to write of *all* rent arrears ascribed to the ‘bedroom tax’. That would not only make it incredibly expensive, but it would amount to a charge on Council Tax payers which would go directly into the government’s pocket. In the case of Fife, for example – one SNP council which has promised to pay people’s bedroom tax – the Council will thus be taking £5.4m of Council Taxpayers money and giving it to Ian Duncan Smith. Added to which – when they realise what is happening – I am not sure that Council Tax payers will be all that happy that £5.4m of their money is going to subsidise non-payment of rent by people on council tax welfare benefit.

At the end of the day, offers of no-eviction policies are merely vote-catching, and open all kinds of cans of worms. At the moment, the press are coming forward with all kinds of specific examples where the bedroom tax is causing heartbreaking personal hardship; you can bet your bottom dollar that, in those Councils which pledge to subsidise rents, the press will find all kinds of examples of people who are cheating the ratepayers.

I appreciate that these no-eviction pledges are well-meaning offers to try to blunt the harm this iniquitous ‘tax’ will do, and you’ve got to see the good in such an aspiration, but the only *answer* to the bedroom tax is to abolish it, not to tax the ratepayers to try to mitigate its effects.

Tax? This is not a tax by the definition of what most people understand tax, i.e. A levi on Earned income! This is a reduction in Un-earned income or a reduction is free money handed out by the state. When I chose my house, my purchase decision was based upon what I can afford and need. Now I could use an extra bedroom, can I get financial support (free cash from the state) to fund it? Can I bollocks! So why should the rest of the nation get it?

You cannot legislate the poor into freedom by legislating the wealthy out of freedom. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.

When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend is about the end of any nation. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it”

First of all I would like to clarify one thing, there is a big difference between public and private sector housing and comparisons should not be being made for this reason,years ago people got huge tax relief from the government on their mortgages and at the end of it owned their house,whilst public tenants paid rent and rates combined for years and years with nothing at all to show for it! Although council tax has replaced rates, most are paying twice as much in council tax than the figure set for rates. Thatcher said it would not double, another lie. I have to say that council houses have been paid for many many times over by being tenented, so yes this Bedroom Tax is grossly unfair.

As others have said, what does vote against actually mean? If it’s just a token gesture, then Labour is being it’s customary vapid self.

Err, they’re NOT in government. What do you expect them to do? Unless you can suggest a course of action this is just silly isn’t it?

People complain if Labour don’t take a strong stance on an issue (even for symbolic reasons) and they complain if Labour take a strong stance too.

This call would probably have more credibility had Labour not been, I don’t know, abstaining from votes on matters such as workfare, say.

Let’s get away from the “Tory bastards” rhetoric and analyse what is really happening here.

The fact that some families are provided with unnecessarily large houses whilst others live in cramped conditions or are not provided with a house at all is a function of the flawed system where a rationed state provision is allocated by a state bureaucracy.

Get to the top of the queue and you are handed a house for life at a subsidised rent and you can keep it regardless of any change in your circumstances. You can pass on the subsidy to your offspring or even rent it out at a profit.

Is that really how things should work?

The only fair way of meeting housing needs is to abolish the twin distorters to the market of social housing and housing benefit. Give everyone a basic income then let them spend their money to rent or buy a property that meets their needs- a level playing field for all and private rents tumbling as the housing benefit subsidy is withdrawn.

I thought lefties were supposed to like fairness and equality of opportunity?

Oh and if you want to see why social housing is so expensive to administer, watch these guys in action.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01rrxwk/Neighbourhood_Watched_Series_3_Episode_6/

The problem is caused by abuse of a good system to help the poor and needy. I am sure you all know at least one person that is unlawfully claiming benefits, I do, in their case both are working and claiming all benefits, they have a £35 contract mobile iPhone each, sky sports, go clubbing every weekend, drive everywhere, one smokes and they rent a brand new house, all paid for by the tax payer, unfortunately I work and cannot afford any of the above as I have to pay for everything. If you want to help yourselves shop everyone abusing the system and keep the social for those that need it.

Unusual for Labour to oppose yet another Coalition policy without giving any indication on what they would do if it power, sell more cut price gold, rob the pension fund, deregulate the banks more go further into debt, who knows, do they? Perhaps the millionaire Labour councillors could give their tax break reward to the poor in their area, would be the moral thing to do?

24. Gallbladder

@19: “Err, they’re NOT in government. What do you expect them to do?”

I’d expect them to be consistent. I.e. not change their messages completely when going from government to opposition or vice versa.

@Corky

You bought the house you could afford, that’s great good on you. But the trouble is, things aren’t black and white. You talk as if the people in social housing have been given some kind of pass in life. They haven’t, many people affected by this are hard working families, or people who CANNOT work due to a disability or chronic illness. They are not all scroungers like this government likes to portray them. I can understand the sentiment behind trying to make the system fairer. But this is not the way. They are taking benefits off people who NEED them. Is it right for a family with a disabled child who keep a spare room free for a carer to be hit by a reduction in benefits? or to force people into poverty because there is not enough social housing? No of course it isn’t. More and more people are being forced to chose between essential things like food and heat, many are going to be forced to go begging to food banks. A society should be judged on how they treat the vulnerable. This coalition is failing the most vulnerable in our society. The Welfare system may be unfair, it may be open to abuse, but there is no point in having a safety net for those in need if the safety net is made of the cheapest thread you can find.

@ Pagar

The fact that people are in oversized houses is likely more down to the fact there isn’t enough small housing. Where do you expect all these people to go? And surely the point of social housing is that it’s subsidised? Otherwise what would be the point of it?

26. Keith Reeder

“Let’s get away from the “Tory bastards” rhetoric”

Naaah, let’s not. “If the cap fits…” and all that.

27. Robin Levett

@pagar #21:

The fact that some families are provided with unnecessarily large houses…

The bedroom tax isn’t about unnecessarily large houses; it isn’t about “spare rooms”. It’s about children under 10 sharing a room whatever their gender, and children 10-16 sharing a room with a sibling of the same gender. There is no size criterion for a bedroom; so you could have 15-year-old twins sharing a bedroom large enough for a single bed only.

Get to the top of the queue and you are handed a house for life at a subsidised rent

Really? Where? Not in the UK, you don’t. Each Council’s HRA must balance (and the HRA is ring-fenced – so rental income must balance all housing expenses) – the only subsidy, if that is what you care to call it, is the same HB that is available to private tenants.

…and you can keep it regardless of any change in your circumstances.

Not in all cases.

You can pass on the subsidy to your offspring

Nope – at least not if you got your tenancy after section 160 of the Localism Act came into force; and even before then, your offspring had to be living in the house with you before you died, and your spouse had to have predeceased you; and of course there is no subsidy (see above).

or even rent it out at a profit.

Not without losing security; and when the The Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013 comes into effect, not without committing an offence.

28. John Ruddy

@15
I dont know about the Brighton policy, but the SNP policy is not a No eviction policy. Dundee SNP councillors have admitted that people can still be evicted if they increase their arrears due to the Bedroom Tax.

As for Scottish Labour “whinging” to the SNP Government, they have eventually come around to the view, proposed by the Govan Law Centre and Shelter Scotland that the Scottish Government should amend the relevant legislation to prevent evictions of tenants of ALL social landlords across Scotland due to Bedroom Tax arrears, and provide the necessary funding to ensure that RSLs are not disadvantaged. So, while Scottish Labour are a bit late in coming to the party, it should be welcomed that they are now asking the Scottish Government to do something.

Thank you, Brighton & Hove Labour, for supporting last Thursday’s Brighton & Hove Green Party council motion against evictions for inability to pay bedroom tax. A bold and decisive move that will help those most badly affected by the
is Dickensian and immoral change to the welfare state.

30. John Ruddy

@27
Certainly under previous tenancy agreements, you could only sub-let a property with the prior written agreement of the council/ housing association. The view tended to be that they would only allow it if a) you were staying in the property, b) if there was spare room in the property (ie more than 1 bedroom etc) and c) that the rent charged was not excessive, and certainly not in excess of the rent charged by the council.

Of course, if you illegally sub-let, then you could be evicted, costs reclaimed, found to be intentionally homeless etc etc….

Ultimately, it is only going to be the restoration of the pre-1989 rent controls that will get a hold on this problem – the whole universal credit system reform is now tottering becauseof rising rents in London. Rental changes effectively undermine both the budget envisaged for universal credit and the feasibility of the computer system that is supposed to administer it(see the forthcmoning article in Benefits magazine published by the IRRV).

The effect of sanctions for up to three years on JSA, the abolition of council tax benefit from yesterday, the housing benefit cap and the proposals for an overall benefit cap (necessitated by inflated rent levels)and the bedroom tax are all going to result in two outcomes for sure (1) non-payment of rents and arrears that will block the civil courts and (2) widespread council tax default thatwill block the magistrates’court ifmore than 1 in 30 non-payers attend court and seek to put the council to proof. It was, of course, non-payment of an earlierlocal tax, the poll tax that brought down the predecessor to council tax, the community charge in 1990 and ended Mrs Thatcher’s premiership. As various Conservative peers warned in Parliament in October 2012 during the passage of the Local Government Finance Bill, the non-payment campaign for council tax is being initiated by the Government. Effectively, the combined effects of cuts and caps will also start an undeclared rent-strike. However,(as in 1991)non-payment of council tax it will only start to hit home on middle England in 2014 when the bills of all those who do pay council tax start to go upon account of default starting this year. Similarly,the non-payment of rents amid the overall financial crisis will start to impact on buy-to-let landlords, ultimately resulting in a property crash of 1974 proportions and the abandonment of Assured Shorthold tenancies.

Still its encouraging that at least some in politics have now woken up to what is happening, in place of the high-minded trivialities that only primarily concern white makes such as gay marriage that were previously occupyied so much of their attention.All this was actually foreseen some two years ago with amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill 2012 at the committee stage, many of which New Labour backed away from tabling and discussing.

32. Anita Perfect

About time somebody stood up for the people

Robin @27

Each Council’s HRA must balance (and the HRA is ring-fenced – so rental income must balance all housing expenses) – the only subsidy, if that is what you care to call it, is the same HB that is available to private tenants.

That is irrelevant.

Although Housing Revenue Accounts have been self-financing since last year, Council Housing and Housing Association rents are certainly lower than in the private rented sector. This is because there is only £17k of debt, on average, attached to each Council home.

That there is a subsidy for social housing is also clearly illustrated by average weekly HB payments- private tenants, at £114 per week in England, compares with £82 for housing association tenants and £73 for council tenants. There is also a clue from the fact that there are waiting lists to access it…..

And it is wrong to imply that social housing tenants do not rent out their properties at a profit. Last year’s Audit Commission report estimated there were 100,000 council houses in the hands of tenancy cheats.

In London the rate of tenancy fraud is estimated at between 4 and 6 percent yet more than half of councils have never recovered a single home from unlawful tenants.

http://www.channel4.com/news/100-000-council-homes-in-hands-of-tenancy-cheats

Social housing is a corrupt and unfair system which acts to fatally distort the housing market and we should all be campaigning to get rid of it.

34. Charlieman

@33. pagar: “This is because there is only £17k of debt, on average, attached to each Council home.”

Err, isn’t this because of successive governments’ policies to transfer provision of social housing to housing associations, which means that there are few new council house builds. Simultaneously, new debt on council houses will be for older properties that have been refurbished.

The debt attached to a newly available private rental will be (plucking a number from the air) about £100k outside London. Renting out a private house is not a passport to wealth; it is a gamble on increasing house prices.

I’m not a fan of state management of housing either, but I think it is important to argue based on the facts of the world rather than what we wish them to be.

35. Bob Howie

Perhaps if his MPs had not abstained it could have made a difference but you cant wait until the bill is passed to condemn it.
This is the typical hypocrisy from the Labour party, the Red party with Blue blood, a parcel of rogues the lot of them!!

Charlieman @34

Err, isn’t this because of successive governments’ policies to transfer provision of social housing to housing associations, which means that there are few new council house builds

Err no. Debt per home owned by Housing Associations is comparable.

“Debt per home increased by 6.7 per cent from £17,226 to £18,372.”

http://www.socinvest.co.uk/news/4313/Housing-association-bond-borrowing-soars

My point to Robin was that social housing rents are subsidised. It is obvious that they are and only the wilfully blind would deny it.

37. Charlieman

@36. pagar: “Err no. Debt per home owned by Housing Associations is comparable.

“Debt per home increased by 6.7 per cent from £17,226 to £18,372.””

Which is consistent with the council house figure.

If government professes to love Housing Associations, and loans them more money, Housing Association indebtedness is a natural consequence.

38. Robin Levett

@pagar passim:

Quick comment now – little time.

My point to Robin was that social housing rents are subsidised. It is obvious that they are and only the wilfully blind would deny it.

You have succeeded in showing that social housing rents are lower than private sector rents; but no-one denies that. You haven’t even started to show that they are subsidised.

@Charlieman

The low level of debt attached to both Council and HA houses is due to the taxpayer subsidy that was used to build them. And, for Robin’s benefit, it is why rents are below that in the private sector.

Or is Robin arguing that the state administers housing provision more efficiently than does the market?

Because it doesn’t.

40. John Ruddy

@pagar
What taxpayer subsidy to build them?

Councils borrowed money to build those houses – and many years of inflation has caused that debt to be fairly insignificant.

There was no “taxpayer subsidy” to build them.

41. Robin Levett

@pagar #39:

The low level of debt attached to both Council and HA houses is due to the taxpayer subsidy that was used to build them.

Nope – not for Council housing. Try again. Think very, very, hard about when the vast bulk of Council housing was built, and what £17k would have built at the time.

If tenants are in rent arrears, Social Landlords can take them to Court and the Judge will generally issue a Suspended Possession Order (SPO) for the tenant to pay a small amount towards that arrears. It is only if the SPO has been breached and all the evidence point that the fact that this tenant could indeed afford to pay that small amount that Repossession can be obtained.

In my experience as a Housing Officer, Repossession ( e.g. eviction ) is not readily granted to Social Landlords by Judges; it can take three to four applications to finally get that Order. In the very few cases where that Order is granted, more often than not, the tenant either comes up with the money when the Bailiffs knock on their door or they abandon the property, leaving the arrears uncollected.

Now, with this cut in Housing Benefit of an average of £14 a week due to “under-occupation”, it is estimated that 2/3 of 660,000 tenants will get in arrears due to no fault of their own. They simply will not have the money. Judges will therefore have to take that into account in their decision to issue an SPO.

These SPOs will be breached, again and again, costing a fortune to Social Landlords in Court fees until such time as final Repossession may be considered.

But – and bear with me if you can ! – this is where it gets interesting.

Will Judges grant Evictions when a tenant has clearly not been able to pay the arrears and SPO due to the cut in HB for “under-occupancy”, was willing to downsize, but the waiting list for a smaller property was months or years ?

What will Judges do then ? Chuck families with children or disabled people on the street ? They will still have to take into consideration other pieces of legislation which protect children from homelessness and Disability Discrimination Acts.

Oh ! and there could also be issues with the Equality Act ( discrimination against religion – children of different sexes under 10 being forced to share a bedroom) -, parents who are separated with less rights to a number of bedrooms than those who live under the same roof, disabled people who may not be classed as ” severely disabled ” , but still need to have two bedroms etc, etc…

It is good that the Labour Party is finally catching up with the Greens on this. But to be consistent – and practical – with the “No Eviction” policy, there must also be a commitment on the part of Local Councils and Registered Social Landlords to write-off any debt incurred by tenants who, through no fault of their own, cannot pay the HB shortfall and cannot downsize.

43. Patrick McGinn

I would like to know why only 90 Labour MP`s signed the Early Day Motion 984, I have asked my local MP Jack Dromey why he abstained, but have not been given a reason or response.

Regards
Patrick McGinn

44. Robin Levett

@pagar #33:

And it is wrong to imply that social housing tenants do not rent out their properties at a profit

I didn’t imply that. I pointed out that if they do so, they will lose the security of tenure that you complain about, and shortly will also be committing a criminal offence (in those cases where they do not already do so).

45. Robin Levett

@pagar #33:

That there is a subsidy for social housing is also clearly illustrated by average weekly HB payments- private tenants, at £114 per week in England, compares with £82 for housing association tenants and £73 for council tenants.

Nope. That illustrates that rents are lower in social housing, and particularly in council housing. Push up council rents, and you will increase the average weekly HB paid to council tenants.

Scotland has a way out of this horrendous bedroom tax and be completely rid of Tory scum forever if voters vote “YES” next year.

Out of my occ.pension, which is all I have to live on and have to rely on a PORTION of housing and council tax benefit, now because of this bedroom tax, having done my sums, I will be left with £34 a week of that pension, keep up the unity of campaigning based on hard facts and relentless exposure of this dishonest bunch of shameful gits whose policy IS inflicting misery, anxiety, depression on so many, this is riddled with anomalies, latest exemption being RAPISTS and PAEDOPHILES on the pretext that they will be unable to take in a lodger and would be difficult to move them, what about those who have been on the transfer list for smaller houses for years and cannot get one, the vicious logic of this bedroom tax dictates that they will be penalised for living in a situation which many of them have been trying to escape from. Just where is the logic or justice????

48. Glen Meskell

Interestingly I have sent emails and tweets to a number of Labour MP’s and asked them if or when they regain power in two years time if they will scrap/abolish the ‘bedroom tax’ and there is a resounding silence from all. It is all well and fine getting local councils to appose it but there needs to be clear message from the top that Labour will not allow such a tax on the poor to stay in place. The day after Mrs Thatcher passed away the bedroom tax is a pure legacy of her attacks on the working and poor classes of this nation. If Labour refuse to abolish this tax then I fear they are still simply New Labour (or Tory in Labour Clothing) and my vote – which they have had since birth – will not be for them.

Labour needs to show strength and vision. At the moment they are showing nothing but dithering. It needs to change and change quickly.


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