|No apologies to Inside Housing for the use of their disgusting image|
As I’ve reported numerous times now, the Bedroom Tax is the big battleground in Merseyside activism so far this year, with neighbourhood groups being formed all over the region, and a federation of those groups was founded last weekend. So far the appeals process has been a large part of most groups’ work, but there is evidence that battles against evictions may have to become the primary focus in the months ahead.
The appeals tactic has been used for a couple of reasons. Firstly, a number of bedroom tax activists – whether directly affected or not – have found it a good ‘in’ with people on the doorstep. You go round someone’s house, you ask if they are affected by the bedroom tax, and if they say yes, you hand them an appeal form. You’ve given them something, so they are willing to go on your database if you have one. Secondly, some – most prominently housing law expert Joe Halewood – have promoted the idea that a vast number of appeal claims could potentially ‘crash the system’ by forcing councils to pay hundreds of pounds per case.
There’s certainly a lot to be said for this strategy, and I continue to promote it. A mass filling in of forms is a type of mass action – albeit one where the capitalist state firmly in charge of things. And for the most part, people directly affected by the bedroom tax aren’t yet that interested in how their personal struggle fits into ideas of class struggle – they just want to be rid of a vicious attack on their living standards. So ‘what works’ is most important. But what if the system doesn’t crash?
Two big articles in this week’s Inside Housing give us a clue. According to the first, “Tenants fail to pay the bedroom tax”:
“Liverpool-based Riverside Group said around half of its 6,193 affected households receiving full housing benefit have not paid anything at all to cover the shortfall, while a quarter contributed something but did not pay their rent in full. Just one in four affected tenants paid the full amount.”
If this figure holds more or less true for Liverpool alone, then there are around eight thousand households no longer paying full rent in the area. We must reach all of these, so that we can build for what seems to be around the corner. So far we can only be in contact with a fraction.
Inside Housing‘s second article, “Weapon of mass eviction”, reports that: “It’s not something they shout about much but social landlords filed 96,742 possession claims in the county courts last year (that’s 265 every day stat fans).” With the government’s welfare cuts hitting the poorest and most vulnerable:
“A snap survey of housing associations by Inside Housing at the end of March certainly indicates they are preparing to change their approach. It found that 23 out of 37 respondents now plan to use ground 8 [of the 1988 Housing Act] to evict tenants who rack up arrears, with just 11 ruling it out. First Choice Homes and Helena Partnerships were among associations which said they were in the process of amending tenancy agreements to include use of ground 8.”
Inside Housing explains:
“Ground 8 is the big Kahuna of eviction threats simply because it is a mandatory ground, which removes the ability of a court to exercise any discretion based on the circumstances of the case. The main requirement is that an assured tenant has arrears of at least eight weeks at the time the notice is served and at the time of proceedings.”
In other words, for all that housing association executives are sometimes prepared to say they consider the bedroom tax “unfair”, or ‘campaign against it’ when they are Labour councillors, they are worried that the court system may be too compassionate, and refuse to throw thousands of people on the streets, or on the ever more stretched mercy of local councils.
The bedroom tax can be defeated, but the resistance must prepare for every eventuality. It seems our class enemies are doing just that.