Monday, April 08, 2013

Liverpool Labour and the Bedroom Tax

We have been asked a few questions by activists in the city about what Liverpool Labour is doing to combat the bedroom tax. This is our current position.
a) What you are doing and what do you intend to do to prevent Liverpool residents from being evicted from their homes?
Labour councillors in Liverpool have established a grassroots Labour members’ campaign which has been rolled out nationally to other grassroots Labour members, to demand that the Government abolishes the bedroom tax and which calls upon the Parliamentary Labour Party to commit to abolish it when they are able to form a Government. We have funded this campaign ourselves personally – most of the expense being in the establishment of a website where tenants can share their stories and where Labour campaigners can access campaign materials to use in their local areas. The website can be found at

We also unanimously passed a motion in the Town Hall which you may have read about in the Liverpool Echo a few weeks ago.

You will be aware that the council itself has no housing stock, all homes having been transferred through stock transfer some years ago under the Lib Dem administration. That said, many Labour councillors are members of Housing Associations, either independently or as appointments from the local authority, and they will be party to discussions about how each association can best manage the bedroom tax – and the introduction of universal credit paid directly to tenants – to minimise the threat to tenancies. Some of them may well be discussing non/eviction policies. Some of them are also discussing measures to help fund the cost of moving, or support with caretaker services to make it easier to do so on the day for those who want to move. And some HAs with our support have set up hardship funds to pay the bedroom tax on  behalf of tenants where appropriate.

We hope very much there will not be mass evictions – Housing Associations are always reluctant to evict tenants and do so only rarely – more usually because of crime or anti-social behaviour. We don’t believe they will be in any hurry to evict tenants who are not able to make up their rent and we also don’t believe that such applicants would find favour with judges who need to sign such eviction orders off. Quite apart from anything else, it will take a long time for sizeable arrears to build up. That said we are not remotely complacent about it and will be doing all we can to support any tenants who find themselves in this invidious position.

HAs are also keenly pursuing mutually agreeable swaps and indeed one Liverpool landlord managed a five-way swap last month, to support tenants who are prepared to move and need help. This was with the support of a Labour councillor who sits on the board of that HA.

All the Liverpool Housing Associations working together have formed a group called the Registered Providers Welfare Reform Group and are committed to funding independent benefits advice and benefits maximisation workers to help tenants and we have met with members of that group to talk about how we can further support them to protect tenants from this crippling financial blow. They are also working on how they can find loopholes or make changes to policies that will in any way protect the tenants they were established to support. You will be aware that many HAs are charities and have been in operation for decades to support social tenants.

You may also know that the Labour council has given £1million to a consortium of 7 credit unions to help local people to manage their limited budgets and keep them out of the hands of loan sharks. We also believe that with our support the credit unions will be able to offer so called “jam jar” accounts so that tenants can ensure their rent (and other bills) are paid when their benefits arrive. 

We have also given £50,000 to local food banks and many Labour Councillors volunteer in foodbanks or support them in their area with extra funds from their devolved budgets. 

We have also set aside £400,000 for a hardship fund. 

And we ensured that the council tax benefit cuts passported from the Government have not been applied in full, but half of that shortfall of 17.5% to working age claimants has been met by the council itself (and some from a grant from the Government) so that residents in receipt of council tax benefit will only have to pay 8.5% of council tax instead of the full 17.5%. It still means people paying who have never had to do so before, but it is half of what it would have cost them.

We also wrote in the strongest terms to the Government to object and indeed the Mayor has sent Eric Pickles, Tory Minister, the money for a train ticket to Liverpool so that he can come and see the problems himself (he wont come of course) as well as organising a nationwide conference on the austerity cuts which was attended by council leaders and bishops from around the country, objecting to the unfair cuts heaped on our city. 

b) Will your political organisation repeal the legislation in its entirety if elected - for everyone who is affected?

We are not in a position to speak for the Labour national front bench who have not yet stated whether they will repeal this. They have said that they believe it is perverse and unfair and that they want it to be scrapped now, by this Government, with many shadow Secretaries of State speaking at demonstrations on 16th March, giving that message. But so far they have not actually said they will repeal it. We continue to call for them to say that they will, we believe that it is our duty to provide the powerful voice of grassroots Labour Party members so that they will ultimately give that commitment.

c) Will your organisation be organising further protests against the bedroom tax?

Liverpool Labour Party will go on protesting against the bedroom tax for as long as it takes. We have been out knocking on doors in affected areas, going to local Tenants and Residents Associations, taking petitions into local shopping centres like Fairfield, Anfield, Walton Village and Norris Green for instance, and tackling cases through our advice surgeries – of which dozens take place every week. We won a case for a tenant on Friday and expect to win further cases this coming week (and hopefully in the months to come of course). We would expect all of this to continue. We will also be continuing to promote stories of affected tenants on our website.

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