The Bedroom Tax in Nottingham

Its fortunate that Nottingham City Council (NCC) is so wholeheartedly opposed to the under-occupancy penalty, A.K.A. the ‘Bedroom Tax’, which was introduced by Cameron’s Tory government in April last year. The Bedroom Tax is a reduction in the amount of housing benefit received by social housing tenants who have a ‘spare’ room. This effectively means that hard-up people who have an apparently ‘spare’ room are having to stump up extra cash for their rent payments. It is affecting around 5,500 people in Nottingham and 35,000 in the entire East Midlands region.

The ‘tax’ ignores the many legitimate reasons for having a ‘spare’ room, such as living with a disability that requires room to store essential equipment, being a separated parent and needing a place for children to stay at weekends, or just because there are no one or two-bedroom properties available. At the same time, the tax is targeting some of the most vulnerable people in the country, i.e. those surviving on low incomes, disabled people and carers. But most ludicrous of all is that people on low incomes are expected to suddenly juggle all their finances to be able to cough up 14%-25% of their rent. This comes at the same time as Council Tax Benefit being cut, resulting in an increase in the amount required to pay towards Council Tax. All in all its not looking great for people who who are already struggling to make ends meet.

Deputy leader of the Labour lead Nottingham City Council did recently make a motion against ‘cuts in welfare and local government spending’, calling on the Government to reverse the bedroom tax. All well and good, but in the words of hereandnow in their comment on the Evening Post article – “Bit blinking late now!”

What’s unfortunate is that NCC do not seem to have any spine when it comes to actually making a stand against the things they claim to oppose. Did they refuse to implement this unfair legislation? Did they promise to prevent any evictions of people from their homes? Did they increase their budget for Discretionary Housing Payments? In short, no. There is a petition.

Other than a lot of hot air, the only action I can see being taken is a protocol that has been created by the big social landlords (Asra, City Homes and NCHA) and the Council which will offer tenants ‘every option to prevent eviction.’ This essentially says that an eviction shouldn’t happen if tenants are engaging with either debt advice agencies, or with landlords’ tenancy sustainment teams that manage arrears. Every tenant who goes into this scheme will also receive a Discretionary Housing Payment (a pot of money allocated as an emergency hardship grant) which will have to paid back over time.

During the last 25 years, since Thatcher’s Right to Buy scheme, much of the council housing stock has been sold on to tenants. Regardless of your opinions on this the reality is that most local authorities in the UK now only have a relatively small stock of social housing. In our fair city its mostly managed by Nottingham City Homes with some owned and managed by housing associations. As this pattern has continued it has become common to prioritise social housing for the most vulnerable individuals in society, for example, people with disabilities, health problems, single parents, the elderly, etc.

Social housing should always be fought for and preserved while it still clings to existence, but when social housing is understood as being primarily for the most vulnerable people in society I find it very difficult to see any justification for an aggressive economic policy demanding additional rent contributions from social housing tenants. The Bedroom Tax represents the latest in a long string of methods by which the nation’s many economic shortfalls are being passed onto local communities while also being targeted at some of the poorest and most vulnerable people. All the while big business and the rich are allowed to accumulate more and more wealth thanks to the gift from government; of economic freedoms, concessions and tax breaks, to the wealthiest individuals and their businesses.

In short it seems that Nottingham City Council are making some small efforts towards supporting individuals and families who are being affected by this unfair tax, but they are playing it very safe. And in the mean time they are implementing their own measures to grease the way for this money to be taken from the 5,500 social housing tenants being affected in Nottingham. Nottingham City Council should be putting their money where their mouth is and taking a much firmer stand against the Tory Bedroom Tax.

Our advice is simple – appeal! Everybody has the right to appeal any decision made by the council or jobcentre. Come along to one of our Tuesday Sessions 10 – 2 at Forest Fields Advice Centre if you want any support with it.

Here’s some suggestions from Notts Campaign Against Bedroom Tax

What should Nottingham City Council Do?
* Use all means possible to cover the Bedroom Tax shortfall
* Use all of its Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) budget and apply for more from the government. In August it had only used 20% of its budge
* Put £700,000 of reserves into DHP budget (as permitted by government)
* Refuse to take tenants through the eviction process – saving £6000 per attempted eviction,
avoiding unnecessary homelessness, strains on social services
* Use its reserves (£133m) to temporarily cover the shortfall
* Work out the time, monetary and social costs of implementing the Bedroom Tax and present
this to the government to show that it is imprudent to spend £6000 to evict each household and
incur even more costs
* Build a campaign with the people of Nottingham. Work with other councils and social landlords
to demand that the government covers the shortfall for the Bedroom Tax to prevent these costs
* Don’t set up the community against each other by saying that they will have to cut other public
services, or increase Council Tax in order to prevent evictions – Fight for full funding for ALL services
How much are the council prepared to spend attempting to evict
vulnerable people to implement this unfair policy?

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