Community Deputation to Leeds City Council, Monday 1st July 2013, 1.30pm Leeds Civic Hall

On the 1st July, Hands off our Homes will give a community deputation to the full Council meeting of Leeds City Council. This is our chance to deliver a message directly to all 99 of LCC’s councillors. Below is the text of the deputation that we will be reading out. Please write, email, tweet and lobby your councillor to make sure the message gets through and they understand that they must take action. Please share the message far and wide. To everyone struggling to make ends meet because of this vicious tax, we hear you and we are still here fighting.

Finally, we would really appreciate any support from the public gallery or outside Civic Hall!

Community Deputation to Leeds City Council by ‘Hands off our Homes’

The Bedroom Tax, (or under occupation rule) was brought in three months ago today and affects more than 9,000 people across Leeds who are social housing tenants receiving housing benefit. People who are considered to have one or more ‘spare rooms’ have had their housing benefit cut by between 14 and 25%. This cut is affecting thousands of families with children and is disproportionately affecting people with disabilities.

We are a group of Leeds citizens, some of us employed, some unemployed, some social housing tenants, others home owners or private renters. Some of us are directly affected by these cuts – all of us have family, friends, neighbours who are affected and we have come together as Hands off our Homes to support those who have been hit, to defend homes and to campaign against this unjust tax.

Since we formed just over a year ago we have held meetings and formed local groups across the city in those areas most heavily impacted – from Middleton to Gipton, Woodhouse and Armley. Our meetings have been attended by hundreds of people, we have spoken to hundreds more on estates in Hunslet and Seacroft and in high rise blocks in Cottlingley, Little London and Lincoln Green. In April more than 1000 people marched through the centre of Leeds asking that you, our councillors take a stand against this tax which on top of council tax benefit cuts, rising food and fuel costs is forcing thousands in this city deeper into debt and poverty.

We have talked to parents in Harehills and in Armley who have started to miss meals to feed their children and in winter will sacrifice heat to keep a roof over their families head.

To a 56 year old man in Hunslet who is confused and frightened by the cuts to his council tax and housing benefit and now refuses to leave the house. A young man living alone in a high rise in Lincoln Green who told us he was considering ending his life. A single father in Woodhouse whose children have now left home and has to find £20 out of his weekly allowance of £71 and is now cutting down on food who is hungry and ashamed and isolated; a grandmother in Beeston whose home of 23 years is the only place that her grandkids can see their dad; a grandmother in Morley who looks after her disabled grandson to give her daughter some respite; a grandmother in Seacroft whose grandchildren stay over so their mum can work nights. 

None of these are ‘spare’ rooms – they are part of a home and all the different functions that a home plays in the life of families. Every case is an injustice.

We are deeply concerned at the repeated stories from tenants of housing officers putting pressure on people to cut back on essentials in order to pay the rent. Suggesting that one single father, a full time carer, uses his son’s disability benefit to pay the shortfall; refusing to give a woman with learning disabilities in Lincoln Green a Discretionary Housing Payment form; telling a woman with severe mental health problems that she’ll be out on the street if she doesn’t pay up, that rent comes before food. These are not isolated cases we have been hearing the same thing across the city. In Armley, in Little London and in Woodhouse these issues have been taken to local councillors who have said they will investigate. So far we have heard nothing.

Tenants have been told they can downsize or increase their hours but we know that there are simply not enough jobs or houses to go round. In the last three years the council has let only 1,500 single bed properties – 4,500 of those affected by the bedroom tax are looking for a one bed property. The biggest increase in people claiming housing benefit are from those in low paid work. And in the last four years, Leeds has lost more jobs than any other major UK city outside of London. 

We are here to ask the council commit strongly to opposing this horrendous measure and to take responsibility for the way in which it is being implemented. We know that Leeds City Council did not introduce this tax but your hands are not tied.

It is unacceptable that vulnerable, desperate, depressed people should feel harassed in their own homes by the behaviour of housing officers. It is unacceptable that this should continue and we are calling on the council to investigate the training and practices of housing officers.

We welcome the fact that the council has already re-classified around 800 homes but this is just a drop in the ocean and needs to be expanded further.

We are asking that you follow the example of other councils across the UK and pledge not to evict people who are in arrears as a result of the Bedroom Tax.

We are asking that you admit the false economy of spending money chasing people for money they don’t have and pledge to write off arrears resulting from the bedroom tax.

Finally, it is plain to see that social housing tenants are being blamed for chronic housing crisis that they did not cause. The only solution will be to build more social housing.

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