Bedroom tax - Fight to the finish

The bedroom tax is not working – even by the government’s own criteria. It was supposed to free up social housing properties for overcrowded households. But most overcrowded social housing is in London where the number of tenants affected by the bedroom tax is far fewer than in the north of the country and the midlands. The tax was supposed to save £500m on housing benefit spending a year, but the figure is nonsense because so many tenants have had to downsize into the private sector where rents are much higher, and many more have had to be supported by discretionary housing payments. Robert Clough reports.

Despite the appalling impact of the tax, especially on disabled people, struggles against it across the country are at present small-scale. One of the most active is South Wirral Campaign against the Bedroom Tax which has organised pickets, marches and public meetings since it was set up in April 2013 and repeatedly challenged local MPs and Labour councillors to act against the bedroom tax – to no avail. The campaign has also supported tenant appeals against the bedroom tax, and has won six out of eight benefit tribunals over the issue of bedroom size.

At a public meeting in Birkenhead On 19 May it launched a ‘1,000 appeals over bedroom size’ campaign across Wirral. Campaign co-ordinator and FRFI supporter Robert Claridge explains: ‘There are about 3,600 tenants paying the bedroom tax across Wirral. Of those, we estimate that 2,000 are paying the tax on box-rooms – rooms of less than 70sqft. We want to get as many tenants as possible to appeal on room size, not just because they will stand a chance of winning, but because we want to make the bedroom tax unworkable. 1,000 appeals may sound fanciful, but tenants have nothing to lose by appealing, and it is a necessary step in getting more collective and active involvement in defeating the bedroom tax.’

South Wirral Campaign recently won a significant tribunal for a Liverpool tenant. The judge agreed with the Campaign’s submission that a bedroom of less than 70sqft is unsuitable to accommodate an adult, and further that such a room would present a Category 1 Hazard under the Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) that accompanied the 2004 Housing Act if it were to be used as a bedroom. Tellingly, the judge added that the council ‘is not entitled, as the enforcement authority for housing safety, to ignore other housing overcrowding legislation and housing guidance issued by the DWP, in applying the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006.’

This makes the decision extremely important. The bedroom tax was always a brutal and vindictive attack on poor and disabled people. It was also a means to destabilise the finances of housing associations to open them up for further concentration and privatisation. Now it is being used to frustrate any basic housing standards for tenants and for the working class as a whole. Councils have a statutory duty to enforce the provisions of the 2004 Housing Act, and many do so for Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs). But there they draw the line: while agreeing that 70sqft is the minimum for bedrooms in HMOs, councils claim that HHSRS does not apply to social housing. This is rubbish, and the judge is saying so very clearly. This means that the fight against the bedroom tax must also become a fight for basic housing standards for the working class. 70sqft just allows a single bed, a small wardrobe and a small chest of drawers, an absolute minimum for bedroom furniture.

Robert urges other campaigns to follow suit: ‘There are about 525,000 tenants paying the bedroom tax across the country. Maybe 40% are paying it on box rooms. We can clog up the system with appeals, we can get tenants, their families and friends involved in collective resistance. Our next planned activity in Wirral will be a mass handing in of appeal letters – we already have over 50. Actions like this can raise the profile of the campaign and persuade others that it is better to stand and fight than to do nothing.’

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014

 

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