Wednesday 28 November 2012

Cross-party agreement to consider 'no bedroom tax eviction' policy in Scotland

Last night, a packed Mary Barbour Hall in Govan's Pearce Institute heard the heartfelt concerns from local tenants frightened for their families future with the 'bedroom tax' cuts, due next April.

The cuts will see those who are retired, working, or in receipt of benefits, receive housing benefit cuts of £48 per month from their rent, and in some cases £88 per month.

Humza Yousaf MSP
The meeting heard from a panel comprising of Johann Lamont MSP, Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Humza Yousaf MSP, Scottish Minister for External Affairs and International Development, Cllr James Adams, Bailie Fariha Thomas, Dave Moxham, Deputy General Secretary of the STUC, Mike Dailly, Principal Solicitor, GLC, John Flanagan, Chair of Govan Housing Association, and Kenny McLeod, Deputy Director of Linthouse Housing Association.

There was a unanimous consensus from the panel and members of the public at the meeting, that the 'under-occupancy' housing benefit reforms were irrational and morally wrong, would unfairly force families to give up their homes of many years, and would ultimately lead to an increase in evictions and homelessness across Scotland.

Johann Lamont MSP
Both Johann Lamont  and Humza Yousaf agreed that the housing benefit proposals were irrational and would force families to make distressing and unfair choices. Cllrs Adams and Thomas were worried that the bedroom tax would cause misery for many local people and ultimately lead to greater homelessness, with the package of welfare cuts taking £115m out of the Glasgow economy. There was a need for local advice agencies to use the law and provide welfare rights support for those affected.

The STUC's Dave Moxham reflected on the need to look at rent capping in the private sector and much stronger rent regulation. He noted that levels of child poverty and equality of pay was actually better-off in 1979 than it was today, and how we needed a fightback in the spirit of those of the 1915 Glasgow rent strike, which included Govan's Mary Barbour.  Kenny McLeod explained that 75% of Scottish housing associations relied on housing benefit for more than half of their operational revenue, and that many tenants were already borrowing from high interest home credit lenders.

John Flanagan emphasised the need for all stakeholders and campaigners to come together to work with a united front. This was echoed by the chairman of the meeting, John Foster, and the meeting resolved to form a steering committee to take forward a united campaign on behalf of Glasgow tenants. Govan Law Centre (GLC) agreed to provide full support and backing to the steering committee.

Members of the public in Govan's Mary Barbour Hall
Mike Dailly talked to GLC's call for an urgent minor law reform amendment to implement a 'no eviction for bedroom tax' policy* in Scotland, upon the basis these cuts would be affecting tenants within 4 months or so, and we needed a new safety net otherwise we would be unable to prevent evictions based on the bedroom tax.

Mike explained that at the moment defended eviction actions in court can often turn on £3.55 per week payments to arrears, and with £12 to £22 per week being deducted from housing benefit it could become almost impossible to defend such eviction actions in future.

Both Humza Yousaf and Johann Lamont agreed to consider the feasibility of GLC's law reform proposal which was backed by those present at the public meeting. GLC has suggested bedroom tax rent arrears could be pursued as an ordinary debt, and should not be founded upon as a ground of eviction or to establish the reasonableness of local authority and housing association evictions. Such a policy could either be considered on a permanent or transitional basis with a sunset clause.

The meeting was organised by the tenants and residents associations of Govan and Linthouse, and the Govan Communnity Council.

* GLC's briefing paper and proposed statutory amendment is online here (opens as a PDF).


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