Swindon Tenants Campaign Group Press Release

‘Backup fund’ makes Council tenants pay for cuts through reduced service

Swindon Council’s decision to use money from their Housing Revenue Account to pay for the cut in housing benefit of working age tenants is a dangerous precedent. This ‘backup fund’ may be small, £420,000, but it is money that should be spent on tenants’ homes.

Swindon Council’s Housing Revenue Account is supposed to be ‘ring-fenced’; that is it should only be used for housing, in particular the upkeep and improvement of our homes.   Having once breached this ‘ring-fence’ what is to stop them doing it again if rent arrears rise?

Nobody should imagine that this decision is the result of sympathy for the tenants’ affected by the ‘bedroom tax’. It is simply a means of trying to keep down the level of arrears that the Council is expecting to rise as a result of the benefit cuts. The ruling group will do anything but publicly challenge their government even when they know that its policy is unjust and impractical. At least they won’t speak out unless they have first resigned as the brave case of Councillor Bluh has recently shown.

Russell Holland says the ‘scheme is “funded by and for council tenants” and is apparently “fair”. How is it fair for tenants to have to fund the housing benefit cut? How is it fair for tenants to have to pay other tenants’ rent? Why haven’t they asked Council Tax payers to do likewise for the Council Tax cut?

Under the Thatcher government for many years tenants were forced to pay the housing benefit of other tenants. This practice was ended by the previous government. Mr Holland and his group now want to turn the clock back. The only difference is that in this case we will pay the price with a reduced service.

Martin Wicks said:

“This creates a dangerous precedent. Once the HRA is used to pay for a government cut, what is to stop them using more of it for this purpose instead of using it for the upkeep of our homes?

If the ruling group was concerned about the plight of tents affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ they would call for its repeal. They would follow the example of other Councils and make a commitment NOT to evict tenants thrown into financial difficulties by this iniquitous piece of legislation.

The ‘bedroom tax’ has made matters worse by adding more than 600 households to the 4,400 on the waiting list who qualify for 1 bedroom. Given the fact that the Council is only giving out around 100 one bed tenancies a year, it would take around 50 years to accommodate all these people. In practice many of them will never be able to gain a tenancy.

Policing working age tenants and bedrooms cannot resolve the housing shortage. The waiting list Bands A and B has broken through the 7,000 barrier for the first time ever. The only way that the housing needs of these people will be addressed is through building Council housing once again. You cannot tackle a shortage by policing a waiting list. You have to address the shortage by building sufficient homes to cut the waiting list.”