Bedroom tax non-payment soars in Scotland: Stop evictions

Non-payment soars in Scotland : Stop all bedroom tax evictions

Matt Dobson, Socialist Party Scotland

The majority of Scottish councils have reported a significant increase in rent arrears since the bedroom tax – a housing benefit cut for under occupancy of ‘spare bedrooms’ – was introduced in April.

A CoSLA (the Scottish local authority umbrella body) survey shows widespread non-payment of the bedroom tax.

Three quarters of councils reported rises in rent arrears. Four out of five local authorities report collecting 50% or less in rent due from tenants affected by the benefit cut, three in five report that they have collected as little as 40%.

CoSLA has stated that the bedroom tax will result in arrears of £25 million a year for local authorities.

Non-payment of the bedroom tax in Dundee has already cost the council £250,000 since April, with arrears rising at £21,000 a week.

A June survey by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations showed similar increases in arrears.

The Glasgow Evening Times reported that 101 out of 146 bedroom tax affected tenants at Blairtummock Housing Association (HA) in Easterhouse are in arrears.

The non-payment levels show that tenants cannot afford to pay, but also widespread defiance where there are strong local campaigns.

The non-payment levels should also be seen in the context of local authorities and Housing Associations harassing tenants with letters threatening eviction.

In April and May, 22,000 local authority tenants in Scotland put in discretionary housing payment (DHP) applications (four times the number received in April/May 2012).

But, according to the Public Finance website, CoSLA expects a maximum of 44% of applicants will get DHP, which is set at different levels depending on individual circumstances and only lasts for six months.

And with councils not having enough staff, DHP applications are taking weeks and months to be processed.

The CoSLA survey shows that £2 million of the £10 million DWP assistance fund has already been spent by councils in Scotland.

Even when the £10 million is distributed it will only cover 15p in every £1 cut from the housing benefit of the 105,000 households affected in Scotland.

Pressure builds

Social landlords, SNP and Labour politicians are coming under huge pressure to take non-implementation measures and protect tenants.

The Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation has organised lively, well-attended lobbies and pickets. MSPs and councillors have found their surgeries and constituency offices becoming post boxes and burning sites for harassment letters.

The pressure has forced the SNP to refer the Govan Law Centre petition – calling on the Scottish government to amend the housing act to prevent evictions – to the Scottish Parliament Welfare Committee.

The Labour council in Renfrewshire has reclassified some of its stock as “one bedroom”. Some HAs, including East Lothian, have decided to protect some of their tenants from the cost of the bedroom tax, although at the discretion of the management, a measure calculated to be a cheaper alternative to chasing rent arrears.

But these measures are not enough. Socialist Party Scotland calls on the SNP Scottish government to amend section 16 of the housing act to prevent evictions.

The SNP government should use the £179 million budget underspend and other reserves to protect tenants from the cost of the bedroom tax and fight for the money back from the Con-Dems in Westminster.

Councils and HAs should use their borrowing powers and reserves to protect tenants, increase funding for emergency payments and reclassify properties; they should campaign with tenants, trade unions and communities for an end to cuts and increased funding for public services.

Socialist Party Scotland supports standing candidates that will refuse to make cuts. If Labour and SNP politicians won’t fight the Con-Dems, we need our own anti-cuts, trade union and socialist candidates that will.

Over the last few years we have worked with others to offer an electoral alternative by standing as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, Scottish Anti-Cuts Coalition and Solidarity.

With the Miliband-led Labour Party pledging a Labour government will continue with the cuts, and the SNP doing the same in Scotland, it is clear we need to build a new mass workers’ party.

The bedroom tax has caused misery and sparked fury across Britain. Thousands have protested against people being forced out of their homes or robbed of 14% or 25% of their housing benefit by millionaire Con-Dem ministers, many of whom have spare houses, never mind spare bedrooms.

But we can stop this attack! Twenty years ago a mass campaign defeated Thatcher’s hated poll tax. Led by the Socialist Party’s predecessor, Militant, a mass campaign of non-payment made the poll tax unviable.

While the bedroom tax is different in many ways, one thing is clear – if we get organised we can defeat it.

We demand:

  • Scrap the bedroom tax and write off all the debt
  • Defend all those who cannot or will not pay
  • No evictions for rent arrears due to the tax or austerity cuts. Build an anti-eviction army
  • End all cuts – tax the bankers and the billionaires not bedrooms
  • For a programme of new council house building to meet social need
  • Build a mass movement against austerity starting with a 24-hour general strike organised by the trade unions
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