Fighting the bedroom tax in south London

Over the last few months, South London RCG has been taking to the streets to expose Southwark Labour council’s crimes and to challenge it over the bedroom tax – and, in particular, its abject failure to reimburse the 317 pre-1996 tenants who, until 3 March 2014, should have been exempt under a DWP loophole.

On 14 February, we held a Valentine’s Day protest outside the MySouthwark Service Centre on Walworth Road, with red roses to trample on, accusing the council of ripping the heart out of the community with the unfair and illegal bedroom tax. We handed in a letter requesting information on how the council defined a bedroom and asking whether, in the light of a number of legal rulings, it would review its implementation of the tax in the coming financial year. We also demanded whether the council would honour, in writing, Councillor Richard Livingstone’s pledge that no Southwark tenant would be evicted for bedroom tax arrears.

When, after two weeks we had no response, we occupied the foyer of the council buildings in Tooley Street, demanding to speak to the Housing Benefit Department. No one was forthcoming, and it took an hour for staff to even provide us with a name for the person responsible and yet another week for Martin Green, acting head of the department, to finally send a mealy-mouthed reply, indulging in sophistry over ‘spare rooms’ and ‘bedrooms’ and stating: ‘The council has no blanket policy not to evict those affected by the bedroom tax’. At least 220 people in Southwark are in rent arrears because of the tax.

In a similar vein, the council has fobbed off a Freedom of Information request about how many – if any – pre-1996 tenants have been reimbursed. Southwark Council told a local newspaper (Southwark News 13 March 2014) that it had ‘contacted and reimbursed all tenants affected’. This is a lie. We are constantly meeting people on the streets who have been given no information about how to reclaim their money; one man was handed a piece of paper that was simply council advice to staff about how to fob off tenants’ question. He has written to the council, the DWP and local MP Harriet Harman and received no adequate reply. So, as we told the council during our occupation, we will be back.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 238 April/May 2014

 

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