Over the last few weeks there have been a handful of councils who’ve publicly announced, in one way or another, that they will not evict tenants hit by the bedroom tax.
So far (there are probably more announcements in the pipeline) Brighton & Hove City Council, led by the Green Party; Darlington Borough Council; All 9 SNP-led Scottish Councils, including Dundee; Islington; and Bristol have declared a no eviction policy.
On first glance you would think, well done. But if we look a little closer, things don’t seem what they are all cracked up to be.
Take the 9 SNP-led councils in Scotland who, this weekend, released a Bedroom Tax Declaration stating:
“We, the representatives of SNP-led local authorities, resolve that where tenants who are subject to the Bedroom Tax and are doing all they reasonably can to avoid falling into arrears, we will use all legitimate means to collect rent due, except eviction.”
The most troubling aspect of this statement is:
“we will use all legitimate means to collect rent due, except eviction.”
What does “legitimate means” mean? It could mean that anyone hit by the bedroom tax could be faced with a court order to get them to cough up the tax or that the so-called arrears could be transferred to a debt collector. That’s ‘legitimate’, right?
And what does “doing all they reasonably can to avoid falling into arrears” mean? If you know from the offset that you can’t pay the tax and don’t pay it, is that ‘reasonable’?
And if you refuse to pay the bedroom tax, then does this make you still liable for eviction? It sounds like, if you’re good and do what your told we can protract your route to eviction, we can keep the roof over your head and we hope that you vote for us at the referendum.
The SNP declaration doesn’t sound like a no-eviction policy at all. It sounds more like political manoeuvring to capture votes.
Brighton & Hove have made a similar pledge that smacks of political posturing and no substance. The Green Party, who put forward the proposal, have been rebuffed by Brighton & Hove housing officers; and the Council exec have said that it will be looked at for “feasibility”.
That, again, is not a council turning round and, point blank, refusing to evict tenants hit by the bedroom tax. It’s a council who’ve announced a public-appeasing 'in-principle' statement.
Bristol Mayor George Ferguson has also been throwing false salvation to bedroom tax affected tenants. Mr Ferguson says,
“the council will not evict any tenants for arrears they build up due to a genuine inability to pay this new sum until the cross-party working group has had time to examine the issue”
Islington Council have added caveats to their no-eviction pledge which roughly mirrors the government’s initial advice of stay, move, lodger, job:
“If people have no option of somewhere to move to and their arrears are entirely due to the bedroom tax then we won’t evict them”.
They then go on to say that this would be at “significant cost to the council” and we would look to move persons in large homes to a one-bedroom flat. They use an example of an elderly person in a large house.
That’s not a no-eviction policy! That’s encouraging self-eviction. What if they don’t want to move and continue to rack-up ‘arrears’ they can’t afford from the offset? Are the council to pay the bedroom tax indefinitely?
Darlington Councillor Bill Dixon:
“There’s no need for any council tenant to be evicted as a result of the bedroom tax. I want people to contact the council as soon as it becomes apparent that they are affected and we will help them work out a plan to pay what they can afford.”
That’s is not a no eviction policy! “What they can afford”? No one can afford the bedroom tax, so that means they pay nothing, right?
Although these no eviction declarations and pledges have been reported as just that, they are anything but. In one-way or another, they still expose tenants to the chaos of the bedroom tax. Nowhere have these councils and councillors stated a point blank dismissal of the bedroom tax and the evictions that pursue it. In asking tenants to pay some of it, they partially validate the bedroom tax. When asking tenants to do everything they reasonably can to avoid falling into arrears, they shift the axis of burden, again, to where it never belonged…onto the tenant.
Furthermore, excluding tenants who refuse to pay the bedroom tax from a no eviction policy, as some of them infer, attempts to suffocate the possibility of working class resistance and punish the tenant who sees the absurdity of the tax and dares to fight it. A separation of those who can’t pay and those who won’t pay —the former receives a reward in the form of scraps; the latter is punished with homelessness.
What these partial no eviction pledges do is attempt to falsely scatter the impact of the bedroom tax, a sort of reformism couched in political manoeuvring and point scoring.
Piecemeal won’t get us anywhere, especially when it’s disguised as a helping hand.
We need to take matters into our own hands and not rely on hollow pledges.