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8 October 2014

Bedroom Tax: Still making tenants' lives hell

Cathy Meadows, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Scrap the Bedroom Tax

'The bedroom tax? Hasn't that been scrapped?' We get comments like this at our campaign stalls now. The Labour Party said it would scrap the tax and the Lib Dems said they no longer support it.

The well-publicised Affordable Homes Bill, which proposes changes to the tax, recently got through its second reading in parliament, with support from both parties.

But bedroom tax tenants are still suffering.

'Y' is terrified about the impact of a summons on her mental health and has borrowed money to pay her bedroom tax arrears. She doesn't know how she'll pay it back or what will happen when the arrears build up again.

'A' and 'Z' pay their bills fortnightly and buy as much food as they can afford and then stay at home until the next benefit payment.

'K' suffers from depression and is grieving the recent death of a close elderly relative. She is now facing mounting arrears as that relative helped her pay the bedroom tax.

'P' was refused a discretionary housing payment (DHP) and is using food banks to feed her family.

The bill does nothing for them now and it may still do nothing if and when it gets through eight more stages to become law.

The bill does not abolish the bedroom tax. It exempts households where:

Not exempt

It doesn't exempt households who need an extra room for medical equipment or for overnight carers for disabled children. Or parents who are not their children's main carer, or their children are away studying or in young offenders' institutions.

All the exemptions rely on tenants being aware of and proving them.

In Nottingham our campaign is still coming across bedroom tax tenants who are not aware they are eligible for a refund because of the pre-1996 tenant loophole confirmed in January 2014, or are having to fight to get a refund.

Labour-dominated Nottingham city council doesn't even ensure tenants are aware they can apply for DHP before taking them to court for bedroom tax arrears.

Advice centres are already working at full capacity. At least one advice centre in Nottingham no longer helps tenants complete the new eight page DHP application forms.

Critically the bill does not challenge the fundamental principle of the bedroom tax: if someone does not leave their home, their housing benefit will be cut and they will be expected to use money meant for food and bills to cover their rent.

While it brings hope, publicity about the Affordable Housing Bill is confusing and potentially reduces active support for bedroom tax campaigns.

"There will be no evictions from council run properties... as a result of the bedroom tax." Milan Radulovic, leader of Nottinghamshire's Broxtowe borough council made this commitment in April 2013 and has kept to it. With 17 Labour, 17 Conservative and 10 Lib Dem councillors, it shows that councils can be pushed if some councillors are prepared to take a lead. But this is not enough. They are still implementing the bedroom tax though not evicting.

Labour has a majority in local government, they could stop the bedroom tax tomorrow if all their councils made similar announcements. They should cancel all bedroom tax debts, using reserves in the short term and launch a mass campaign with unions, campaigners, community groups, disabled groups and others to demand the shortfall from the government.

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