Update: Benefit Cap, Housing Act and campaigns

First, some dates for your diary:
This Saturday, 19th November: stalls in Little London with information and campaign materials, and promoting a public meeting to be held on Wednesday 23rd November. If you can help, please contact Ellen for more details – either by email here or by text/phone message on 07930966205.
Wednesday 23rd November, 5pm Dortmund Square, protest against the Autumn budget: billions being cut from health, education, housing welfare and local government.  
Wednesday 23rd November, 7pm in Room 4 at the Civic Hall. Meeting on housing hosted by Hyde Park and Woodhouse branch Labour Party, with speaker from Hands Off Our Homes. Information and discussion about the housing crisis, threats of the new Housing and Planning Act and the new housing benefit cuts; what we can do to oppose them, what the council can do, and discussion of the policies of the major electoral parties. This is a public meeting, open to all and hopefully with an opportunity to share your own experiences and put questions to a councillor.
Monday December 6th, 7pm: next HOOH organising meeting. This is a change of date, and also probably a different venue, so please get in touch if you would like to attend. Email here or phone/text 07930966205.
Overall Household Benefit Cap. As those of you following our blog-posts and Facebook page will know, the new lower overall household benefit cap (OHBC) has now been implemented for households who were already affected by the previous benefit cap. The cap is to be rolled out for other claimants over the next couple of months, and the expected start date for Leeds is 23rd January. If you are affected or expect to be affected it is vital that you go to your One Stop (Housing Benefit) office straight away to tell them you want to apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment. The application form is quite complicated and it is very useful to get help with it from someone with experience or knowledge who can help you make a good application. Also, get evidence (such as a letter from a GP or support worker) about issues such as why it is not possible for you to move into work (eg health problems or childcare responsibilities), about “vulnerable” household members and about what will happen if you are unable to pay your rent.
If you are affected we would like to know what happens as it could help others too: for example, let us know what kind of support you are offered if any, whether you get a Discretionary Housing Payment, and what happens if you are unable to pay your rent.
Please note that the DWP is sending letters to the people they think are affected, but in some cases they are getting it wrong, so if you have a letter like that do check it carefully and also work out for yourself or with help from an advice worker whether you think you come under the cap and how much you should be getting. Our own flyer explaining the cap and how to work it out is here
Turning now to the Housing and Planning Act, as you will know the Act seeks to force councils to sell off higher-value council housing stock to pay for subsidies for housing association tenants exercising the new Right-to-Buy. It also requires councils to seek information about council tenants’ income and to increase rents where households jointly earn more than £31,000 (not counting earnings of adult children). It now appears that these two strands of the policy will be delayed, as the government has yet to work out just how they will be implemented. It seems likely that the widespread opposition to these measures is having some effect, and that if we keep up the pressure and the publicity the policies have a chance of being dropped or at least significantly amended. So it is still very worthwhile lobbying your MP and also the Housing Minister Gavin Barwell, telling them that these policies are unacceptable and instead demanding policies which empower councils to build the homes we need: genuinely affordable council housing to rent, for all who want it.
We must also keep up the pressure on our local councillors to keep publicising these government attacks on social housing, and on benefits which keep roofs over people’s heads; to make it absolutely clear that these policies are unworkable and to join with other local authorities to resist them. A suggested letter to send to your councillors is here.  Obviously you can change or add to this to reflect your own personal concerns.
Bedroom tax
If anyone is affected by the bedroom tax and has a “spare room” which is too small to accommodate a single bed, bedside table or cabinet, small chest of drawers and wardrobe, and space to dress and undress in privacy – please put in an appeal against your housing benefit decision. Explain that you have not done so before because you have only just been made aware that you have valid grounds for appeal. We cannot guarantee that you will win, but you have nothing to lose. A suggested letter for doing the appeal is here, and we suggest you add your own details (having measured the room), and take the letter to your One Stop (Housing Benefit office) – (not your rent office).
Meetings and Campaigns
Following a major national gathering of housing campaigners, concerned professional and councillors, we in Leeds are now thinking of a new housing “summit” for the region early next year. Our last summit focused on spreading the word about the impacts of the housing act and benefit cuts, but this time round people are largely more informed and we will be able to assess what progress has been made and how we can work together build a really powerful campaign to finish off these policies. Please get in touch if you are interested and can help to spread the word.
As the Autumn budget approaches we are reading of strong opposition in the Commons to the intended cuts to ESA and to Universal Credit for those in low-paid work. Benefit cuts and housing policy are beginning to look like weaknesses for this vicious government, with more divisions and threats of rebellion appearing within their ranks Outside parliament, more and more voices are being raised against austerity policies, cuts and privatisations which are bringing misery to the low- and insecurely-waged, to those living with sickness or disability, and to those whose work in the home is unrecognised and unpaid. It feels like this is a most important time to come together to demand the decent homes and the decent lives we need and which we know are possible.

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