Greens welcome commitment on bedroom tax evictions but warn more needs to be done

Edinburgh Greens have welcomed news that City of Edinburgh Council has become the latest social landlord to adopt a “no evictions” stance for bedroom tax rent arrears. However, the party has also warned that more needs to be done to make sure that, where possible, tenants are exempted from the charge in the first place.

Steve BurgegssGreen Housing Spokesperson Cllr Steve Burgess said:

“I am pleased that that the Capital Coalition have decided to back the proposal I made back in February (Note A below) to commit to a No Eviction policy for council tenants affected by the odious Bedroom Tax. Our tenants can be assured that we are on their side and that we won’t make them homeless simply because they have a spare bedroom.

“Of course, I believe that it would be better if tenants didn’t have to face this penalty at all, and that is why I submitted a motion (Note B below) today calling on the Council to work on ways to reclassify ‘spare’ bedrooms in other ways.”

“Now that the Coalition has submitted its own motion taking a “no evictions” stance I am sure we now have much more common ground to work on, to ensure that we protect our tenants from arrears and the causes of arrears.”

NOTES

A. Policy Committee 26 February 2013.

9.1 By Councillor Burgess – ‘No Eviction for ‘Bedroom Tax’ – submitted in terms of Standing Order 16.1:

“Committee:

1. 1) Notes that from 1 April 2013 new restrictions will be introduced by the UK Government affecting working-age households occupying social housing such that reductions will be applied to housing benefit payments where tenants are deemed to be under-occupying their homes. This has been called the “bedroom tax”.

2. 2) Notes that the restrictions are estimated to affect 6,500 council and housing association tenants in Edinburgh.

3. 3) Notes that, on 22 January 2013, Corporate Policy and Strategy Committee noted officers’ intention to explore options to provide matched funding for the Discretionary Housing Payments fund which would bring the fund up to an additional £2.021 million and that this is aimed at, among other measures, reducing the detrimental impact of the under- occupancy restrictions.

4. 4) Notes that a range of actions to mitigate the under-occupancy restrictions are being looked at, including providing offers of reasonable alternative accommodation but that the supply and turnover of smaller accommodation comes nowhere close to meeting the demand.

5. 5) Therefore resolves that, in determining when and whether to initiate and pursue proceedings to recover a tenancy as a consequence of rent arrears, the council will:

a – Calculate the sum by which the household’s housing benefit payment has been reduced by under-occupancy restrictions

b – Disregard that sum in relation to action for recovery of the tenancy (eviction).”

B. Policy Committee 16 April

Motion submitted 3 April 2013

Title: ‘Taking Effective Action on ‘Bedroom Tax’

“This Committee:

1) Expresses concern that on 1 April 2013 new restrictions were introduced by the UK Government affecting working-age households occupying social housing such that reductions will be applied to housing benefit payments where tenants are deemed to be under-occupying their homes. This has been called the ‘bedroom tax’;

2) Is further concerned that the bedroom tax is now affecting around 4,000 council tenants and a similar number of housing association tenants in Edinburgh;

3) Notes that a range of actions to mitigate the under-occupancy restrictions have been looked at, including providing offers of reasonable alternative accommodation, but that the supply and turnover of smaller accommodation comes nowhere close to meeting the demand and that tenants unable to move to smaller accommodation may fall into rent arrears because of the bedroom tax;

4) Is concerned that in 2011-12 there were 93 council tenants losing their homes following eviction action for rent arrears and understands that continuation of the same approach for bedroom tax arrears could make many more people homeless;

5) Recognises that the Housing Revenue Account may be affected because of non-payment of the under-occupancy element (bedroom tax), but believes that pro-active support and engagement with tenants, tailored to their circumstances is more effective than the threat of eviction;

6) Further recognises that making tenants homeless may not impact directly on the HRA but will increase pressure on homelessness services, increase cost of providing temporary accommodation and longer-term impact on health and social-care services;

7) Therefore agrees to take measures to reduce the impact of bedroom tax on council tenants including:

(i) redesignating bedrooms, possibly as public rooms, to mitigate under-occupancy restrictions and,

(ii) in determining when and whether to initiate and pursue proceedings to recover a tenancy as a consequence of rent arrears, the council will not evict a tenant for rent arrears due to the under-occupancy element (bedroom tax).

Proposed: Steve Burgess

Seconded: Maggie Chapman