Sunday 24 February 2013

Bedroom tax facts, myth and legends: why evicting households for bedroom tax arrears makes poor financial sense in Scotland

The debate on whether Scotland should introduce a 'No evictions for bedroom tax' policy is gaining widespread public support, with many councillors, some councils, MSPs and MEPs now backing the principle of GLC's Scottish Parliamentary petition.  

GLC is aware, however, that some people and politicians remain undecided about the workability of not evicting tenants for bedroom tax arrears, and that a number of assumptions and assertions are circulating against the principle of the petition, which can be summarised as follows:
  • Not evicting someone for bedroom tax arrears will mean many people who can pay won’t pay, which is unfair for those tenants who choose to pay, or are unable to do so.
  • It would take several years to build up a sufficient level of arrears before a social landlord considered going for eviction, so what is all the fuss about?
  • It would be unworkable for a social landlord to separate ‘bedroom tax arrears’ from other rent arrears, and therefore not evicting people for bedroom tax arrears cannot be practical.
  • Not evicting tenants for the bedroom tax will damage the revenue streams of social landlords, make their business operations unsustainable, and ultimately damage the interests of other tenants who do pay.
Accordingly, in the interests of well informed public debate, GLC is publishing a 'Bedroom Tax Facts, Myths and Legends' paper  (opens as PDF) which explains the hard facts with reference to the relevant law, practice, and empirical evidence available in Scotland. We believe the facts overwhelmingly support the case for not evicting tenants for bedroom tax arrears in Scotland and hope that you will consider lending your support to our campaign by signing our petition here and tweeting and disemminating this post to a wider audience.

Saturday 16 February 2013

Glasgow Advice Agency calls for local authority guidance to enable tenants to mitigate bedroom tax

As reported in The Herald (Saturday, 16 February 2013) the Glasgow Advice Agency (GAA) has obtained the opinion of senior counsel and understands that the meaning of 'bedroom' for the purposes of the Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2012 is not legally defined, and that, importantly, the definition is not static or fixed in time. GAA funds and manages free financial inclusion, welfare rights and advice services across the South and North East of Glasgow. Its principal members include GLC, Govan Money Matters Advice Centre and GEMAP Scotland.

Essentially, GAA understand that it is a matter for each local authority as 'the relevant authority' under the regulations to determine what is and is not a 'bedroom', and that the actual use of a room by a particular household will be critical in deciding whether that room is a bedroom or not. Accordingly, GAA believes it is possible for tenants to change the use of what might be regarded as a 'spare bedroom' in terms of the regulations into something that need not be counted as such, and not be subject to the housing benefit under-occupancy deductions (bedroom tax). In that regard, the guidance and approach of individual local authorities will be critical.

In particular, this approach is of obvious application for disabled tenants in Scotland or the UK who may use a 'spare bedroom' for the purpose of therapy, storing wheelchairs, medical equipment or to undertake medical procedures. Other tenants may be able to avoid the bedroom tax too. The critical factor is there is a need for formal guidance and then advice to ensure an uptake of that guidance to help tenants mitigate against the bedroom tax.

"GAA believes there is a key role for the Scottish Government to take a lead in this matter and provide formal guidance for local authorities to enable a consistent approach and facilitate best practice across Scotland."

At present, 95,000 households in Scotland are affected from 1 April 2013, with a cost implication in lost rent to councils and housing associations in the sum of around £50m per annum in Scotland. GAA believe the issuing of guidance and providing advice could enable many of those affected by the bedroom tax with a means to lawfully mitigate against it by using a spare room for a purpose that would not be regarded as a bedroom in law.


Friday 15 February 2013

Civic Scotland organisations unite for law reform to protect tenants against bedroom tax evictions

Oxfam, Govan Law Centre, Shelter Scotland, Money Advice Scotland, the Carrington Dean Group and Glasgow Central Citizens Advice Bureaux have come together to support a campaign film calling on the Scottish Government and Parliament to prevent Scottish tenants being evicted for bedroom tax arrears.

The campaigners are calling for section 16 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 to be amended so that bedroom tax arrears are treated as an ordinary debt in law, and not as rent arrears which would constitute grounds or evidence for eviction. The new campaign film explains the expected impact of the 'bedroom tax', and the concerns that advice agencies and anti-poverty charities in Scotland have in relation to increased evictions and homelessness in Scotland.

The campaign film asks for people to sign and support the 'No evictions for bedroom tax' petition in the Scottish Parliament - which is online here:  (anyone, anywhere can sign this, and you do not have to be in Scotland or the UK to do so).  The 'Amend section 16' campaign film can be watched below.


Monday 11 February 2013

Oxfam Scotland backs 'No evictions for bedroom tax' campaign in Scotland

Oxfam Scotland is backing a change in the law that will help tenants affected by the controversial cuts to housing benefit stay in their homes in Scotland. The charity, which works with partners in Scotland to fight poverty and create sustainable livelihoods, is supporting a petition to the Scottish Parliament by Govan Law Centre (GLC), calling for an amendment to existing housing law.

The amendment will mean that rent arrears caused by the so-called 'Bedroom Tax' can't be used as grounds for eviction by social landlords like councils or housing associations. Government changes to housing benefit mean that, from April, people who are judged to have a 'spare room' will face a massive 14% cut in the support they get to keep a roof over their heads. Those with two 'spare rooms' will face a 25% cut.

Judith Robertson, Head of Oxfam Scotland, said: "Last year our Humankind Index for Scotland found that an affordable, decent and safe home is the top priority for Scots across the country. But housing benefit cuts will put thousands of people at risk of losing their homes. People on low incomes are already struggling.

"We recognise that social landlords are being placed in a difficult situation by these housing benefit cuts, but our priority surely has to be to keep families in their homes. The change in the law proposed by Govan Law Centre will help make sure that happens.

"We hope MSPs will support the petition, and we hope the UK Government realises the enormous damage these cuts will have on people."
 GLC's Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly, said: "We are delighted that a leading global anti-poverty charity has decided to back our 'No Evictions for Bedroom Tax' petition in the Scottish Parliament.

"Oxfam's support for our Scottish campaign underlines the seriousness of the situation, with the prospect of tens of thousands of low income households in Scotland being threatened with homelessness unless they can find extra money for rent, and many families being pushed into destitution and poverty.

"We believe the Scottish Parliament has devolved powers which could be used to significantly mitigate the adverse impact of these changes to housing benefit, and hope that MSPs will join civic Scotland in supporting our No Evictions campaign".

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Money Advice Scotland back 'No evictions for bedroom tax'in Scotland' campaign

GLC is delighted to announce that Money Advice Scotland has agreed to back the 'No evictions for bedroom tax in Scotland' petition and campaign. The petition to the Scottish Parliament now has 1,066 signatures since going live at the weekend, and is growing every day. You can sign the petition here.

Money Advice Scotland (MAS) is the national umbrella organisation in Scotland which promotes the development of free, independent, impartial, confidential money (debt) advice and financial inclusion. 

MAS serves a membership of over 200 members organisations and individuals drawn from local authorities, CABx, and other voluntary projects, who all provide money advice. Other members who are supportive of our objectives include Insolvency Practitioners, creditor and debt collection organisations.

GLC believes that the bedroom tax is the new poll tax in Scotland, and that bedroom tax arrears of rent should be treated as an ordinary debt in Scots law, so that tenants do not have to suffer the pain, suffering and indignity of bring evicted from their home because of the bedroom tax.

Sunday 3 February 2013

GLC calls for action on 'Bedroom tax' from Holyrood

The Scottish Parliament has been asked to change the law to prevent tenants being evicted because of changes to housing benefit. Speaking on BBC 1's Sunday Politics Scotland show, Mike Dailly of the Govan Law Centre said that people could be homeless because of the UK government reforms.  He said Holyrood should act to minimise the consequences of the change.

But, talking on the same programme, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani claimed little could be done until the Scottish parliament has more powers. The changes to housing benefit are intended to encourage mobility by discouraging tenants from staying in homes deemed too large for their needs. Mr Dailly said: "This is the new poll tax in Scotland. It's a vicious attack on the low paid and poor." 

The law on benefits is a reserved matter, controlled by the UK parliament at Westminster, but Mr Dailly said Holyrood could change the law in areas that it does control. "The Scottish government can do a lot to prevent people from being evicted. We are calling on is for the Scottish Government to change housing law so that if you incur 'bedroom tax' arrears that should be treated as an ordinary debt but not allow you to be evicted," he suggested.
You can sign GLC's Scottish Parliament petition for 'No eviction for bedroom tax' here. Almost 500 people have signed the petition within 48 hours of the petition going live on the Parliament website. The Sunday Politics Scotland show is available on the iPlayer here (41 mins in). Read more on this story from the BBC. 


Saturday 2 February 2013

We can stop evictions for bedroom tax if you sign this petition

GLC's petition in the Scottish Parliament for 'No evictions for bedroom tax arrears' is now online, and we would be grateful if you would consider supporting same by adding your signature here:  Please circulate this link to your friends, family and colleagues and ask them to sign too. The bedroom tax is the new poll tax, but it is much worse than that.
Housing benefit under-occupancy provisions - 'the bedroom tax' for tenants in the social rented sector are introduced by section 69 of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and the (draft) Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2012, from April 2013.  These provisions will see tenants of councils and RSLs in Scotland lose on average £ l12 per week, with some tenants losing as much as £22 per week in housing benefit. There is widespread concern in Scotland that these changes will cause major detriment to thousands of households in Scotland.
The DWP estimate 660,000 claimants will be affected across the UK, and the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland suggest as many as 95,000 tenants could be affected in Scotland.[1] 
When it comes to Scottish rent arrears eviction actions in sheriff courts, often the success or failure of a tenant in preventing eviction will turn on a few pounds per week, for example the standard payment for arrears direct is £3.55 per week. Accordingly, the prospect of £12 to £22 per week being deducted from rent payments under the bedroom tax from next April means Scotland's law centres and advice sector will be unable to defend many eviction cases in practice. 
We are suggesting a minor amendment to section 16 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 (as follows) which would prevent 'bedroom tax rent arrears' being used to establish or justify a crave for eviction, and instead the landlord could obtain a payment decree for these 'type of arrears', and pursue them an ordinary debt. 
We do not believe the bedroom tax is fair or morally justifiable for the following reasons:
• Arrears accrued by tenants due to the ‘bedroom tax’ from April 2013 are not the ‘fault’ of social rented sector tenants, and therefore using such arrears to establish or make out a case for eviction must be unfair and unreasonable as matter of principle and social policy.
• The DWP’s Impact Assessment accepts there are insufficient smaller properties for tenants to downsize to, and therefore many tenants will have no realistic alternatives other than to accrue rent arrears from the bedroom tax.
• The public cost to accommodate a family made homelessness is on average £24,000 per case , which would place major pressure on local authorities and the NHS in Scotland in a time of budget cuts, and therefore the need to prevent eviction from the bedroom tax is in the wider public interest.
• Given the imminent nature of the cuts, and the lack of practical solutions available to tenants, there is a cogent case for providing social tenants with a longer transitional period, and a guarantee that they will not be evicted due to these reforms in the short to medium term.
• Ultimately, many social landlords in Scotland are already taking proactive action to mitigate against these forthcoming housing benefit cuts, and have no desire to evict tenants because of the cuts. However, RSLs and councils are subject to public audit and have a duty to pursue rent arrears as a matter of law, and in terms of their regulatory supervision. Accordingly, this amendment would assist social landlords, by ensuring they could only pursue bedroom tax arrears by way of ordinary debt recovery (payment actions, followed by ordinary diligence).