Stepping up the war on the bedroom tax- What social landlords can do

There has been a lot of focus in the housing trade press about the hapless One Vision Housing Association, who sent out a legal looking notice for tenants to sign which said “I understand that One Vision Housing can take legal action against me if I fail to pay my rent including any shortfalls as a result of these changes.”  Few organisations would be quite so blunt or honest about their intentions.

Amazingly One Vision took this action even though its web site admits that it cannot rehouse all those people affected by the bedroom tax, even if they want to move.  One vision is a transfer landlord in Sefton, where the council has added to the agony (and the likely rent arrears) by cutting council tax benefit so that even the very poorest have to pay 20% of their council tax.

But it is clear that the beginning of April, which marks a clear step up in the war against the poor, with the cuts in council tax benefit complimenting cuts in housing benefit,  represents a point at which housing organisations have to decide whose side they are on.  Is it your problem or a problem for all of us?

One Vision and others have made their decision. The organisation intends to survive and thrive at whatever cost to tenants. They are not alone. The same edition of Inside Housing that reported this contains an article by a solicitor on how to effectively use ground 8, which results in mandatory repossession for rent arrears which is obviously prompted by the tax.

But there are other responses.  Just down the road from One Vision’s base, Jon Lord, CEO of ALMO Bolton at Home, is quoted as saying “I know my unease is shared by others in the housing world, but where is the protest?  Where is the anger?”

Well, perhaps it’s time we created some.  Here are some ideas to get social landlords  started.

In England, you can join the English National Housing Federation’s campaign.  Email john.pierce@housing.org.uk.  In Wales and Scotland support any action by your national organisation.

  • Put out press releases about how your organisation is being affected by the tax.
  • All councils run by the SNP and the Green Party have said that they will not evict tenants whose arrears are solely down to the bedroom tax.  See if you can persuade your organisation to make a similar commitment.
  • Support individual residents who want to tell their story by sending out press releases about their situation.  The media always likes personal stories.  Local media will rarely do a hatchet job on individuals, although the national media need watching.  Send copies of these stories to the MP’s who represent the affected tenants.
  • Support and fund tenants associations and other organisations that are opposing the tax.  If you do not have a tenant’s association perhaps now is the time to promote one.  If you are in Scotland the Scottish Parliament has voted money which can be used to fund this sort of activity.
  • If no one else is starting a local campaign maybe you can convene a meeting to start one.
  • Consider reclassifying your properties, although be aware that what you say is not definitive- since the regulations refer to the actual number of bedrooms rather than the definition by the landlord.
  • Consider locking off any “spare” bedrooms, with the agreement of the tenant, so that the tenant cannot use them. It seems to me that they cannot be counted as bedrooms.  The tenancy agreement would obviously have to be amended.
  • Although you have to chase rent arrears and cannot have a blanket policy of writing them off, you can avoid mass ground 8 evictions.  You do have a degree of discretion over how far you pursue rent arrears.  I’m not going to work for any organisation that goes for mass ground 8 evictions.  You may not be in a position to do the same, but I think you can announce your clear opposition.

The bedroom tax is so manifestly unfair that it could turn into this government’s poll tax.  There is an election coming up comparatively shortly and there is a history of getting measures like this repealed after they are implemented.

As the downgrading in of a number of association’s credit ratings in the light of welfare reform suggests that either landlords and tenants hang together or they all hang separately.

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