Newcastle residents fight back against the Bedroom Tax - 19 December 2013

On 19 December, Newcastle residents protested against the Bedroom Tax, both inside and outside the Customer Service Centre in Newcastle City Centre. The protest, organised by residents from Byker and FRFI supporters, targeted Newcastle Labour Council’s unlawful implementation of the tax. As FRFI has reported, Newcastle Council have adopted a blanket approach and ignored the 1985 and 2004 Housing Acts when defining bedrooms. The 2004 Housing Act specifies that a room must be at least 70sqft if it is to be used as a bedroom. Otherwise, it is a category 1 health and safety hazard. Tenants brought letters requesting inspection by Environmental Health to the protest and demanded to speak to representatives from both the Environmental Health and Housing Benefit (HB) departments.

Upon entering the building, protesters were manhandled by council staff and told that they were not allowed to protest in the building. These employees continued to harass the demonstration for filming inside the building, and then called the police. Following this, a police officer attempted to seize one of the protester’s phones. The Labour Council claim they are opposed to the bedroom tax and that it will ‘continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those affected, and do all in our power to support everyone in Newcastle towards a better future’.

Despite these attempts to intimidate the demonstration, the activists remained in the building and continued to demand to speak to Environmental Health and HB representatives. Civic Centre manager, David Moffat, spoke to the protesters on behalf of the council. Initially, he promised protestors that they would be able to speak to representatives, stating, ‘You will be able to speak to a senior officer’. Moffat then told protestors that both departments were busy in meetings, but that they could wait until the building shut. When challenged on this, Moffat again changed his position, stating that ‘no-one will be able to see you today’ and that ‘you need to put it in writing’. After two hours demonstrating inside and outside the building, the protesters submitted a letter setting out their a meeting, together with several tenants' letters requesting inspections by Environmental Health. As stated in the letter, we expect a response by 6 January, otherwise we will return to demonstrate at the Civic Centre again, and will continue to do so until representatives of Environmental Health and the Housing Benefit Office meet with us.

This charade should be nothing new to tenants. Wherever local councils have been challenged on the Bedroom Tax, they have attempted to fetter their responsibility. Newcastle, as we have reported, is no different. Councils have many grounds on which they can challenge the Bedroom Tax and could alleviate the suffering of tenants if they so wished. On 6 December, Newcastle council upheld an appeal and reversed a Bedroom Tax decision, yet they continue to claim in other cases that they have no discretion over implementing the bedroom tax. Newcastle Labour council is forcing tenants into further poverty and misery because it chooses to do so. Tenants must continue to put pressure on their councils and should take inspiration from the multitude of victories seen across the country. Councils and the DWP are acting unlawfully. If we organise now, we can win.

Smash the Bedroom Tax!

James Bell and Nica Evans