AN OPEN LETTER TO THE MEMBERS OF BRIGHTON & HOVE CITY COUNCIL HOUSING COMMITTEE
FROM BRIGHTON BENEFITS CAMPAIGN & BRIGHTON BEDROOM TAX VICTIMS SUPPORT GROUP
We urge all councillors on the Housing Committee to honour the no eviction promise made to council tenants in the city by Chair of Housing, Councillor Liz Wakefield. We are disappointed that the proposals put forward to the committee meeting on May 8th fall very far short of this commitment.
The only substantive action proposed in the report is to divert £70,000 from the Housing Revenue Account to supplement the Discretionary Housing Payment fund. This is entirely inadequate to deal with the attack on tenants represented by the bedroom tax and the other cuts to benefits which came into effect in April 2013.
The Discretionary Housing Payment fund for Brighton & Hove is £1 million for 2013-14. The report states that tenants of both private and social landlords in the city are having their income cut by £11-12 million this year.
The bedroom tax will cause a loss of income for Brighton & Hove council tenants amounting to £700,000 this year.
90% of tenants facing cuts to their incomes due to the bedroom tax and other housing benefit changes will not benefit from this minor adjustment to the very limited budget for discretionary help. This proposal in no way amounts to a ‘no evictions’ policy.
The report states that if the Secretary of State does not give permission to top up the Discretionary Housing Payment fund, even this small gesture will be abandoned.
Despite acknowledging that the financial cost to the council of evictions and homelessness will be greater in the long term than the cost of supporting tenants to stay in their homes, the report focuses on providing people with “incentives” to pay additional rent contributions out of their already meagre incomes.
The report states that the council intends to take recovery action against tenants who fall behind with rent and council tax payments. According to the council’s rent arrears and debt collection policy , this recovery action includes evictions.
Tenants on benefits need their rooms for the same things as other householders – for study/storage/guests, for medical equipment, to enable respite care, because couples or siblings need to sleep in separate bedrooms for health reasons, or to fulfil shared residence arrangements for children. The bedroom tax is an attack on the right to family life.
We call on the council to make the following commitments to its tenants:
No evictions: Tenants who get into arrears because of bedroom tax should not lose their homes.
No bailiffs: Bedroom tax arrears should not be aggressively pursued.
No bidding restrictions: Tenants should not be prevented from moving because of bedroom tax arrears.
No compulsory moves: It’s inhumane to force people out of homes and communities they’ve lived in for years.
We believe that the council should stand alongside its tenants and citizens, rather than acting on behalf of the government to implement the unjust and cruel cuts to housing and other benefits. Overcrowding, housing shortages and the housing benefit bill are not the fault of tenants in social housing, and the punitive bedroom tax will simply create more problems, with huge financial costs to the nation and individual suffering. It is a cruel, deliberate and tragic diversion from what really needs doing to solve the housing crisis.