Sunday, 01 February 2015

Universal credit threatens eviction amnesty

Councils that have pledged not to evict tenants who run up arrears as a result of the government’s ‘bedroom tax’ could struggle to keep their promise once universal credit is introduced.

Dundee Council last week agreed that no tenant in arrears due to the under-occupation penalty would be evicted if they are doing what they can to avoid falling behind on payments, and several other councils are considering similar promises.

However it has now emerged that such schemes could only last a few months because the introduction of universal credit later in the year could make it impossible to implement.

Dundee’s policy will only run until April 2014. Councillor Jimmy Black told Inside Housing that they would need to review the policy in nine months because of universal credit, and the level of arrears that the council may build up.

Councillors in Brighton & Hove have also pledged not to evict tenants who run up arrears as a result of the bedroom tax. Green Party councillor Liz Wakefield, who chairs the council’s housing committee, said she will bring forward proposals to bring in the policy at a meeting on 8 May.

But council chief executive Penny Thompson played down the idea, saying it was not council policy and would need to be ‘investigated for feasibility’.

Other councils that are looking at proposals for a ‘no eviction’ rule include West Dunbartonshire, Edinburgh, Fife and Norwich.

Under the ‘bedroom tax’ social housing tenants of working age who are on housing benefit will have their payments cut if they have one or more spare bedrooms. The policy will be introduced on 1 April.

Universal credit, which is being rolled out nationally from October, will combine a range of benefit payments – including housing benefit – into a single monthly sum.

Readers' comments (19)

  • Colin Mcculloch

    It was grossly irresponsible move by some social landlords to commit to no evictions for under-occupation. Practically speaking, the bedroom tax is partial housing benefit. RSLs have no qualms about evicting other partial housing benefit claimants if they run up arrears. To make one set a special case isn't fair to the others.

    The efforts of RSLs should be focused on high level political lobbying to IDS' department and "on the ground" campaigning to the ordinary public to raise as much awareness on the inherent unfairness of under-occupation and to have the reduction removed from both Housing Benefit and the proposed Universal Credit.

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  • Sorry.....not at all clear to me what significance the introduction of UC has on a no evictions policy. Councils are saying they won't evict on arrears caused by bedroom tax. Why does it matter who's implementing bedroom tax? And Colin, I see nothing irresponsible about it at all. How much notice do you suppose IDS is going to take of "lobbying"? Poll tax was dropped because it became unworkable.

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  • Barry Marlow

    This'll be a challenge. Most policies and procedures for arrears are 80% eviction/escalation. So, where there are amnesties, what will officers talk about?
    Not sure that lobbying will do any good. I suggest that landlords lobby among themselves to change the way they've been doing arrears for 30 years.

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  • Why does UC make any difference to this approach?

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  • What utter rubbish.
    Apart from the wilful neglect of potential income, for which, I trust, both councillors and boards of trustees willl be held reponsible and surcharged: this is a fanciful attempt to to re-define both public finances and housing wonder they work in the public sector!

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  • Joe Halewood

    Note well the bedroom tax debate in the commons last month and what Steve Webb minister at the DWP said:

    "Steve Webb: If I may, I shall respond to the Chairman of the Select Committee, who made an important point about those who are “intentionally homeless”. Although it is for local authorities to make decisions on homelessness applications as they do now, under current statutory homelessness legislation, if the only reason for the person’s homelessness is a reduction in benefit that is outside their control they should not be considered intentionally homeless by the local authority. I can put that on the record and hope it is helpful"

    Aside from the fact this assumes tenants with just bedroom tax arrears alone will be evicted - and there is a huge amount of doubt about that - then the Steve Webb direction and steer is highly pertinent to this debate.

    I wonder how many social tenants will read this and think
    (a) why should i bother paying the bedroom tax shortfall as
    (b) easier to get evicted and then the council will have to rehouse me in the correct bedrrom number property

    For the avoidance of any doubt whatsoever I am not advocating this; rather I am offering up a perception that may be taken by the social tenant.

    And it is not true I have just bought a raft of shares in dinghy B&B hotels that will be signing lease agreements by the bucketload with every local council to accommodate these tenants at huge cost to the taxpayer. Can whoever started that remove please desist!

    Parody aside - albeit with much validity - has anyone thought that this may render every single HB claim null and void?

    HB (and LHA) is only paid on the basis that a commercial basis exists, or put simply, if the tenant fails to pay the rent would the landlord evict. If the answer to that is no and the landlord would not evict then the arrangement is not on a 'commercial' basis and the entire HB claim would be disallowed.

    These attention-seeking headlines that these councils are publicising just wont happen and its b*gger all to do with the move to UC, it is bog-standard HB regulations which would say that the tenant in these circumstances does not have a rental liability and the claim disallowed.

    Can we move on please from this attention-seeking NON STORY?

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  • Chris

    There was a consideration by the DSS in the 1990's (another Tory government) to reduce HB where the property had an integral garage - the argument, similar to the additional bedroom one was why should the taxpayer fund a garage for a poor person who obviously did not need one (if they could afford a car then they didn't need benefit - replace car with internet broadband for a modern context)

    This was terminated as an idea on the grounds that it was not possible to remove part of the property when a person became in need of benefit, and then restore it when their circumstances improved again - quite sensibly it would seem, indeed what a waste of civil service resources to have gone down the path at all.

    Now, in this modern age, how does a tenant surrender their 'spare space' without major building work and owners' consent?

    Why not go the whole hog - after all, why should social tenants receiving housing benefit have lofts? Clearly this unused space is a luxury that should only be available for the deserving poor.

    Does anyone else remember when IDS occupied a benefit claimants spare room? He was meant to be there for a week to find out just how life was for the poor. He lasted just over a day before he had to run away on 'urgent business'! One of his colleagues decided to cheer up the 'poor things' by hosting a Bar-b-Q for the estate, deciding that cheese and wine would not have been appropriate. Mind you, the New labourite that took part insisted on having their 'hamper' delivered and popped home for a break to relieve the monitony of it all.

    How the hypocrites live eh!

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  • Colin Mcculloch

    Why does UC affect this?

    Under HB, landlords who are paid direct are told of their tenants' entitlement, if there are any existing overpayments being deducted, when the HB payments will be made to them and if a HB award has been stopped.

    Under UC, landlords will not be told how much "housing costs element" of UC their tenants have been awarded, if there is an overpayment, when it is paid or when it is going to stop. Landlords will be operating in the dark.

    Arrears already accruing from the bedroom tax will rocket further - the direct payment pilots have shown this - and landlords will be regretting ever saying they won't evict for bedroom tax - they simply won't have a choice.

    The bedroom tax must be stopped in both HB and UC.

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  • All this faffing about, Social Landlords are wetting themselves because of the impending loss of revenue due to a reduction in Housing Benefit Entitlements for those who the Government consider to be under occupied. The answer is simple Social Landlords should 'redefine' each property and Tenants requirements to ensure they are not 'underoccupied'. This means of course that they will not recieve the full Rent for the property but at least the Tenant will not be subjected to arrears of Rent. Should the Tenants leave the property at a later date the Social Landlord can then 'redefine' the property to accomodate a Tenant who would not be deemed to be 'underoccupied'.

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  • Maria Judge

    "The rich man's wealth is his strong city, and as an high wall in his own conceit." Proverbs Ch18 v.11
    Whistle Blow!
    You know 'IT' makes sense!
    Exploitation & corrupt Government / Elite Rule? They have nowhere to hide if we all EXPOSE their corruption!

    "Most propaganda is NOT designed to fool the critical thinker but only to give MORAL COWARDS an excuse not to think at all!"

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