First almost 2 weekly Newsletter of 2014 from Hands off our Homes

The first meeting of the year took place on the 15th January

We had a general discussion on the current state of play and the flood of housing stories which have built up over the last month.

The DWP has accepted that they appear to have dropped one in relation to people who have continually claimed benefit since 1996. Such people are not liable to pay the Bedroom Tax (until the law is changed) so some people could have any BT payments that have been charged reimbursed and perhaps even keep any Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) that they have received.

House prices are rising, becoming more unaffordable causing people to overstretch themselves when borrowing, possible housing bubbles – all sounds familiar!

At the same time private landlords seek to increase the rents they charge and some seek to limit their tenants to those who are in work and not claiming benefits. This creates a rather bleak picture for available housing in 2014. Not sure that those suffering the BT can be said to be in it together with those who have a portfolio of a thousand properties to rent in Kent!

We will be writing to the Council to enquire how they propose to find all those 1996ers who are due a refund and to ask what will happen to any who were threatened by the BT and decided to move to a smaller property.

Court Work. We have been at Court on each of the last two Thursdays when there are “possession“ days listed, in order to support those we are aware of and to seek others with whom we have not previously had contact. Contradictory stories are emerging in that suggestions that no evictions are being sought and DHP will be more accessible and cases will be adjourned do not closely resemble the actuality. Still we can report that no tenant who we have assisted has been subject to a possession order.

We were, however, approached by a single man with many problems who produced documentation to show he had been removed from his property by the bailiffs the previous day due to none payment of the BT. All is not perfect but he is now in touch with a solicitor, he has appeared at court and has 2 weeks to prepare his case, he has been allowed access to his property to obtain clothes etc. and he has applied for a DHP. We have alerted his local councillor to the position and hopefully with a DHP his arrears could be wiped out and he could be back home after the next hearing on the 31st January.

We need to be at the Combined Court Centre each Thursday and trying to make contact with those at risk. Clearly there are many who do not or cannot read lengthy, computer generated letters from Leeds City Council and instead of bullying those tenants (which is the overwhelming story we hear) if housing officers were to spend time with tenants they might appreciate the problems that many have to cope with and seek other resolutions to a situation rather than commencing possession proceedings.

Groups. We hope to be out on the streets in Osmandthorpe, Middleton, Morley and Cottingley in the next couple of weeks to continue our efforts to meet those vulnerable tenants.

Anti Austerity. Unison have announced nationally a couple of hours of action in opposition to the cuts which Mr Pickles keeps dumping on Local Authorities. We understand that in Leeds the GMB have agreed to take part and it is likely there will be a demonstration at the Civic Hall at lunchtime on the 4th February. Check our website for more details as we get them.

DEMONSTRATE. 5th APRIL. We suspect the BT will still be with us at the start of the new financial year so we have booked Victoria Gardens outside the Art Gallery on the Headrow for a march and rally. Assemble 12 noon. This will be the anniversary of our excellent Demo last April. Get ready to help us make it bigger than last year. This day may be part of a national day of action……….

National anti BT Federation. There will be a meeting in Birmingham on the 18th of January and 5 of our group propose to attend and discuss with other anti BT groups from other towns and cities as to how we can coordinate action to defeat the BT this year. We cannot wait for Labour and 2015.

The Cost Of the BT. We are aware of anecdotal evidence that shows that those affected by the BT are placing strains on other departments as they try to cope with their housing situation. If you work with the “fall out” from the BT and have information we could use then please contact us.

Next Meeting. We next meet on Wednesday the 5th February at 7.00 p.m. at the Leeds TUC Centre 88 North Street. All welcome.

And if you are available on a Thursday at 10.00 a.m. join us at the Combined Court Centre Oxford Row. To support those against whom a possession order is sought.

And John Davies takes responsibility for these notes so will deal with any complaint and if you have any comments for the next issue – please let us know.

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