Nottingham Defend Council Tax Benefit Campaign outside the court hearings, 21.11.13, photo Vicki Morris

Nottingham Defend Council Tax Benefit Campaign outside the court hearings, 21.11.13, photo Vicki Morris   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Nottingham council uses court against Bedroom Tax victims

The first people to be taken to court by Labour-led Nottingham City Council for rent arrears caused by the Bedroom Tax had hearings on Thursday 21st November at Nottingham Crown Court.

Nottingham Defend Council Tax Benefit Campaign, which includes several Socialist Party members, organised a protest outside the court to demand that the Labour run city council implement a no-evictions policy. 25 people came to protest and show solidarity. The local TV crews covered the protest and the issue was discussed on local BBC radio throughout the day. Members of our campaign were interviewed.

Some of us went into the court building but, following objections from Nottingham City Council, the public were not allowed into the court hearings. We understand that the council argued that each case would only take three minutes so there was no point in having the public present! There were 20 possession hearings listed for the day (we believe six concerned the Bedroom Tax). After more than half an hour only two cases had been heard. A campaign member had their case adjourned because the council could not explain the amount that was being deducted from their housing benefit and because they had not yet applied for a Discretionary Housing Payment.

From talking to others waiting to go into court, it appears that instead of using possession hearings as a last resort, the council is calling people to court before it has even looked properly at their situation (eg one person had proof of not being underoccupied). This means that the council is not following the legal process that applies to social housing landlords.

Most of the people waiting did not have legal representation and were offered a five minute meeting with the duty solicitor. The duty solicitor does not represent people in court and, from one person’s feedback, did not attempt to explore whether the council had followed the legal processes.

Cathy Meadows

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 29 November 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.