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Anti-bedroom tax federation launched in Merseyside
Around 40 delegates gathered at the Unite union building in Liverpool on 18 May to set up a federation to coordinate anti-bedroom tax groups across Merseyside.
Delegates were present from the Dingle, Scotland Road, Granby and Canning in Liverpool, and Bootle, Knowsley, Wirral, Kirkby, Wallasey, Warrington and Halton from across Merseyside.
There was much discussion of the conflict of interest that Labour councillors find themselves in by sitting on the boards of housing associations.
On the one hand councillors claim a duty to protect the finances of the housing association, which means using eviction if necessary to enforce rent arrears.
On the other hand their constituents might reasonably expect them to oppose evictions of the people who voted for them.
As was pointed out, the contradiction is only set to intensify with the introduction of Universal Credit in October.
It was reported to the meeting that the giant Riverside housing association, chaired by Labour deputy leader of Liverpool city council, Paul Brant, has already lost over £2 million due to benefit changes.
Another, Symphony, has refused to rule out eviction under the draconian legal provisions of 'Ground 8 for eviction' under which the judge has no discretion to bear in mind hardship or other extenuating circumstances.
There was a lot of valuable sharing of information. For instance tenants have to agree to a change in their agreement to encompass Ground 8 - we advised not to agree to this in any circumstances.
One group has a cheap mobile phone which can be rotated between members to share the load of giving advice.
The phone could also be used to send mass texts if evictions are about to occur to mobilise people to block bailiffs.
The Halton group had written an excellent letter addressed to councillors sitting on the boards of housing associations calling on them to pledge no evictions, reclassify properties to avoid the bedroom tax altogether, and commit to not using Ground 8.
Although no vote was taken, there seemed to be broad consensus that the housing associations are the front line as the Labour councils' standard response is that housing is nothing to do with them because all the housing stock has been transferred to the housing associations.
This makes the role of the Labour councillors on the boards one of the crucial pressure points.
A PCS rep spoke to say that those who work in the benefit system are no more in favour of the system than the tenants.
This was supported by someone who knew of housing staff coming home in tears because of the hardship and distress they have to deal with on a daily basis.
There was some debate as to whether to elect a committee and officers, as there is an understandable wariness of formal structures.
But most people agreed on the need for federation officers to carry out decisions and to coordinate the campaign, without dictating to the local groups. A secretary, chair, press officer and treasurer were elected.
It hopefully marks a great beginning for a campaign to stop this hated, unfair and tyrannical tax on the poorest and most vulnerable.
Several of the biggest housing associations in the country have revealed that, as expected by campaigners who know people just can't afford it, many tenants have not been paying the bedroom tax.
For example, the Riverside group in Liverpool said that about half of its tenants who were on full housing benefit aren't covering any of the shortfall at all.
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