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Bedroom tax loophole: Can legal tactics be effective?
Steve Score, East Midlands Socialist Party secretary
As reported in last week's Socialist, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has confirmed that tenants who have been continuously entitled to housing benefit since at least 1 January 1996, and who have occupied the same home since that date, are exempt from the bedroom tax. This is because of a flaw in the drafting of legislation.
It means that possibly 40,000 tenants and their families have suffered who didn't need to, many may have been forced to move or have even been evicted.
As the Socialist pointed out last week, Stephanie Bottrill who committed suicide because of the bedroom tax, would not have been liable if this loophole had been known about.
Tenants now need to appeal to recover the money they have had illegally docked from their housing benefit. Campaigners need to put pressure on councils to identify affected tenants, because otherwise tenants may be left unaware
Fair play to the people who discovered the loophole and every person affected now needs to be compensated.
But of course the bedroom tax should be scrapped completely and all of those affected by it should be compensated for what they have lost.
But the campaigning needs to be kept up because the DWP, referring to the loophole, threatens it "will however be taking steps to remedy this shortly."
Legal tactics are a useful and important part of any mass campaign. They were used for example in the successful campaign against Margaret Thatcher's poll tax.
Part of the strategy was to clog up the courts system with people who refused, or were unable to pay their poll tax (a single-rate tax on every adult). Millions of cases were held up.
The anti-poll tax campaigns went to court to provide assistance, and used a legal precedent to go into the courtroom with defendants to assist even when they were not trained lawyers.
Early in the campaign, a court in Leicester refused to recognise these "Mackenzie Friends". The decision was appealed, and as a result anyone who asked for a Mackenzie Friend had their cases adjourned for long periods while the appeal went through the system.
Sometimes legal loopholes can even be used by governments to extricate themselves from mass pressure.
In 1972, striking dockers were jailed because of the anti-union laws introduced by the then Tory Prime Minister, Ted Heath.
In response, preparations for a general strike started to build from below, pressurising the TUC to threaten one officially.
A legal loophole was then used as a means for the government to climb down without openly admitting the reason for their defeat: mass action.
The dockers were released after the intervention of an interesting and previously little-known figure called the "official solicitor" and a decision by the Law Lords to overturn the jailings on a legal technicality.
Successful legal tactics can be the by-product of mass campaigns. In fact the right to a Mackenzie Friend is still accepted in cases today, going far beyond the use of it in poll tax cases.
However, there is no substitute for building struggle with maximum involvement of working class people.
Various different tactics can and should be used at the same time, but ultimately it is the power of working class people that can defeat bad laws and governments.
This was the case with the poll tax, the organised refusal to pay was what defeated it and brought down Margaret Thatcher.
The bedroom tax campaigns will still need to be built to defend those threatened with eviction, and the struggle against the bedroom tax needs to be linked up to the wider struggles against this government and the system of capitalism that all the main parties defend.
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, which is standing candidates in May's local elections, says that councils should refuse to implement the bedroom tax. "Councils should write off all bedroom tax-related arrears, withdraw all court proceedings and eviction orders where the bedroom tax has been a factor, and call on housing associations to do the same."
If you agree, why not stand as a TUSC candidate?
In The Socialist 22 January 2014:
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