Six members of the group attended at the Civic Hall on Monday 5th August to meet with Councillor Peter Gruen and two officers from the council namely John Statham from Housing and Steve Carey from benefits.
It would appear that the meeting for Peter Gruen was to help him create his response to the delegation we sent to the full council meeting on the 1st of July. The formal response to that is expected at the September Exec Board meeting. Don’t hold your breath!
We were told that the Housing benefit scheme was a national one which was supposed to meet the differing needs of the varied areas of the country. That the council had trained its staff to deal with and advise the tenants of the assistance that was available and generally gave the overview that the bedroom tax was dreadful, was opposed by all at the council but there was a legal duty to collect rents, there could be no further property redesignation unless it was legally watertight and the fact that many tenants tell us they are being bullied seemed to come as a surprise. Now officers instruct their staff how to operate so they either do know what is going on or they should know. It may be that tenants will no longer be informed that they cannot move by downsizing or mutual exchange while ever they have rent arrears – but this was all tinkering.
No other council in England had taken up a no eviction policy and clearly Leeds is not going to lead the way. There was a desire expressed that the Labour party should be taking a more robust stance but……………….Council Tax Benefit cuts.
So the citizens of Leeds are being advised as to how to budget. This is not being helped by the fact that many thousands who have seen their Council Tax benefit cut by 19% are now experiencing the pleasure of a visit to the Magistrates Court to answer a summons for non payment of £125 per year for a single person and £166 per year for a couple. To assist the budgeting process £70 costs are added to the debt and if a liability order is made at court a further £20 in costs are claimed turning a debt of £125 into one of £215!!
In readiness for the 1st of August the council had sent out 2400 summonses and on the day 2202 Liability orders were made earning the council £44,040 for about 15 minutes in Court.
What is to be done? If a tenant does nothing then the case will be dealt with in their absence. A debt of £125 (for a single person) will have developed. This will be reclaimed by deductions from benefit at the rate of £3.60 per week. So any negotiations with the council must be on the basis that no costs will be agreed and weekly payments will be less than £3.60. If the council don’t like that then the non payer should insist on going to court and arguing that the costs claimed are “disproportionate to the size of the debt before the magistrates. If lot of people took that stance then the court would not have time to deal with all cases and the council officers would perhaps be persuaded to settle for less.
Also the legislation suggests that the council must have in place a council tax reduction scheme allowing penniless and vulnerable non payers to have their bills reviewed. The Magistrates could be asked to adjourn a case for 2 months whilst such a review is requested – that will delay the implementation of any deductions.
If you hear of anyone summonsed to court ensure that they attend court, refuse any agreement with the council officers that is not acceptable and demand to go in front of the magistrates. It may take some time waiting but financially it could be time spent profitably. And ask them to contact us for help.
Collecting information. We are hearing many stories of tenants being threatened unless they “do something about their arrears”. It is important for us to collect those stories for our own publicity, for other media outlets and to show to the council the distress caused to tenants. Please do not keep information to yourselves but email it to us or call our number.
Barnsley. On the 20th of August a case is to be heard at the Barnsley Magistrates Court sitting as a County court for the possession of a property due to arrears of rent. The tenant had some historic arrears which were being dealt with but now the bedroom tax has struck to make matters “difficult”. A picket of the Court is planned from 11.00 a.m. and the Hoohers taxi will be going with our banner.
August 24th 24 hour sleep in/out. Via face book there is a plan for people in a number of towns and cities to sleep out in protest against the Bedroom Tax. Non of our group were aware of who was calling for this and there has been no approach to Hoohers from anyone. The information is that we should be sleeping in Millenium Square but as that will be turned into a beach party until 1st September we must presume that those making the call have not done their homework on the Leeds area but we will monitor the situation and if there is activity we can be pert of then we can advertise it on the website.
Joint activity. A decision on joining the National Federation was adjourned again. There is a steering committee meeting of the federation on the 7th of September in Manchester from 12.00 until 4.00. At this stage 3 of our group have agreed to attend and it is open for anyone who would like to take part. DPAC have requested that the meeting be extended by an hour so they can have a session together and there is likely to be a session on preventing evictions. It is rumoured that the UN are considering the BTax and will be discussing matters with the Fed at the end of August – it is hoped they might stick around for the 7th September.
A letter is to go out to see if there is sufficient regional interest in a meeting hosted in Leeds on the 18th September at 7.00
Peoples Assembly. There is a meeting of the Assembly in the region meeting in Leeds on the 3rd September with one of our affected tenants being asked to star as a warm up act for Owen Jones. We have agreed to take part. Venue to be confirmed watch the website.
Tory Conference Demo. 29th September Manchester. Ring the Unison office 0113 245 8442 and book a free seat on a non Unison Coach. There may be a specific BTax section.