Swindon Tenants Campaign Group Media Release October 31st  2013

‘Bedroom Tax’ petition to be heard at November 7th Council  meeting

Swindon Tenants Campaign Group has collected 2,298 signatures on its ‘bedroom tax’ petition (see the text below).  The ‘bedroom tax’ or ‘under-occupation’ regulations penalise tenants of working age in receipt of housing benefit who have one or more ‘spare’ bedrooms. Whereas they previously had their rent covered by housing benefit, they now have to pay 14% or 25% of it.

STCG’s petition calls on the Council to press the government to repeal the ‘bedroom tax’ and to make a commitment that they will NOT evict tenants thrown into arrears as a result of having deductions from their Housing Benefit.

Both these actions would be recognition of the injustice of the legislation which penalises working age tenants for a shortage of housing which is not their fault. It penalises the poor in contrast with the coalition government’s treatment of the rich. The ‘bedroom tax’ was introduced at the same time as the highest rate of tax was cut. Whilst poor tenants are having to find extra money out of as little as £71 a week on which they are supposed to live, the government is offering state support of up to £120,000 for people to buy a house worth £600,000.

The aims of the legislation are contradictory. On the one hand it is supposed to cut the housing benefit bill, on the other to ‘make best use’ of the housing stock by forcing tenants to ‘downsize’ to smaller homes. Yet the only way money can be saved is if tenants remain in their homes and pay part of their rent. If they move into a smaller home they continue to receive their full HB and no money is saved.

In practice there are insufficient smaller homes to move tenants into even if they wanted to move. In Swindon only 112 tenants have ‘downsized’. There are still around 1,000 tenants affected by the ‘bedroom tax’. Even if people have asked for a move, if the Council cannot move them then they still get stung by this legislation. There are currently 104 tenants who have asked for a move but will continue paying until such time as the Council can move them.

The big majority of people affected are struggling as best they can because they don’t want to be forced out of their homes that they may have lived in for decades. The consequences of penalising them is that the quality of their lives suffer as they may have to chose the proverbial ‘eating or heating’, and the sheer worry has impacted on the health of many of these tenants.

According to the Council’s own figures 54% of those affected are in arrears. When you bear in mind that the Council has given out 380 Discretionary Housing Payments, the numbers in arrears would otherwise be even higher. However, they will certainly rise because DHP payments are short-term and only 120 have been renewed.

Brian Shakespeare, Chair of STCG said:

“Collecting signatures we have seen the terrible impact on people who were already poor before they faced a cut in their housing benefit. We have met tenants in tears. They are worried to death at the build up of arrears. Some feel ashamed at having to go to the Food Bank, having worked all their lives and never been in debt.

They have spoken about the difficulties of telling children why they can’t have things that other children do. Many people not affected have signed the petition because they can see the injustice of it. Some of them have seen the impact it has had on family or neighbours, and they want to support them.

People have changed their minds about the issue when they have seen how people have been affected. Government propaganda about scroungers and skivers is beginning to wear thin.”

STCG Secretary Martin Wicks said:

“This legislation is part of the government’s attempt to demonise people on social welfare. It’s often forgotten that many people who are currently in receipt of HB, are so because of circumstances beyond their control. They may have suffered redundancy or ill-health. They are victims of circumstance and are being penalised for having been born at the wrong time. Retired tenants are unaffected.

The legislation is directed at driving tenants into smaller accommodation, of which there is too little, or into jobs which are in short supply. The housing crisis cannot be resolved by forcing tenants from home to home, shoe-horning them into a home of the ‘right size’. It can only be dealt with by building more Council housing so that there are more homes available.

The Adver editorial recently berated the administration in Swindon over Library cuts. It said that instead of just implementing them it should be protesting against national government policy. The same applies to the ‘bedroom tax’. Conservative politicians in other parts of the country have said that it is unjust. Some of them have voted for resolutions calling for repeal of it by other local Authorities. Why can’t Swindon Conservatives do the same?”

STCG will speak to the petition and it will be debated at the Council meeting on November 7th .

For further comment ring Martin Wicks on 07786394593 

Visit the STCG website at; https://keepourcouncilhomes.wordpress.com 

Text of the Petition:

Repeal the ‘bedroom tax’ – No evictions

We the undersigned call on Swindon Borough Council to press the government to repeal the ‘bedroom tax’ which blames tenants for a housing shortage which is the responsibility of politicians. The shortage requires new Council house building not policing tenants and bedrooms. This legislation unfairly targets poor people at the same time as the government is introducing tax cuts for the rich. Whilst imposing benefit cuts on working age tenants the government is subsidising the child care of couples earning up to £300,000!

We also call on the Council to make a public commitment that they will not evict tenants who are thrown into financial difficulties as a result of the ‘bedroom tax’.