Bedroom tax - Newcastle Council – cruel and incompetent

‘This is hell,’ a Newcastle tenant subject to the bedroom tax told FRFI. ‘I pay to feed my son every day and the rest of my money goes on rent. I have scurvy because I can’t afford food for myself.’ This will not be an isolated case, as over 2,400 Your Homes Newcastle (YHN) tenants are currently in rent arrears, up over 800 since the same time last year. YHN projects that it will lose £3.2m due to the unpaid bedroom tax by April. Another tenant, Anthony Morrow, told us that ‘the council are useless. They think that the solution is to make people’s lives unliveable and to force us out of the city. They think “we’ll play stupid, childish games with people’s lives and they’ll move. They won’t be our problem then”.’ JAMES BELL reports.

It has been a year since the bedroom tax was first implemented yet, to date, not a single bedroom tax appeal has been heard at a benefit tribunal in Newcastle. This contrasts with other parts of the country such as Merseyside where there have been many tribunal hearings, and where many have been won because the bedroom in question was less than 70sqft, and therefore too small for an adult.

We reported in the last issue of FRFI that Newcastle Council Labour leader Nick Forbes’ office had placed a ban on FRFI campaigners from meeting with either the Environmental Health or Housing Benefit departments. At a protest on 13 February, campaigners attempted to challenge the ban. Only two of us were allowed to enter the council building. Security guards outside blocked entry and interrogated any member of the public before they could get in. We were again prevented from meeting councillors or officials.

However, the following week, Stephen Savage, Director of Regulatory Services and Public Protection, agreed to meet with FRFI supporters on 25 February. We decided to challenge him over a letter the council had sent to tenants giving them a discretionary housing payment (DHP) for the full 2013/14 financial year with the explicit suggestion that they withdraw any appeal they had made against a bedroom tax decision. Savage’s response was to deny all knowledge of the letter, and to promise that he would arrange for us to meet with the housing benefit department within a week. We are still waiting.

On 5 March, FRFI supporters and anti-bedroom tax campaigners marched to the city’s civic centre to attend and speak at a full council meeting. We told the council once again that the manner in which it has implemented the bedroom tax is unlawful. We said the council was using DHPs as an attempt at bribery and demanded it ‘stops this ridiculous attempt to hold up appeals’. Councillors could not give a serious reply, and Forbes resorted to the usual trick of blaming everything exclusively on the Coalition, saying that ‘the bedroom tax has been implemented cruelly and incompetently by central government’. We were of course denied the right to reply, and we were eventually removed from the meeting by council security for heckling.

We know that the number of appeals against bedroom tax decisions is mounting in Newcastle and that the council is attempting to stop this, by whatever means. A housing benefit advisor in the city’s west-end has told FRFI that a large number of tenant appeals have yet to be passed to the benefit tribunal service. Forbes attemp­ted to dismiss any possibility of action. In The Chronicle on 6 March he said that he is ‘not prepared to countenance futile political gestures’. Whilst Forbes regards any attempt to combat the bedroom tax as futile, we do not. With bedroom tax decisions being renewed for 2014-15, the time for action is now.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 238 April/May 2014

 

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