Over the last few weeks, the tide has been turning against the government over their imposition of the bedroom tax. The human rights report by Raquel Rolnik of the United Nations laid bare both the suffering of affected tenants and the fact that the coalition government holds them in utter contempt. And at this week’s Labour Party conference, Ed Miliband made a commitment to abolishing the bedroom tax should he come to power following the next general election.
Labour councils across the country – and particularly on Merseyside – issued statements of support for this decision. Liverpool’s Labour mayor Joe Anderson has used his Twitter account to voice his own personal opposition to the bedroom tax on a few occasions. This week was no different, as he tweeted “Thank you to all of the people who campaigned to persuade Labour to pledge to repeal Bedroom Tax, you deserve great credit.” But there was no response when the Merseyside Federation of Anti-Bedroom Tax Groups – whose members have been instrumental in organising on the issue locally – tweeted him “That’s fine, but will Liv council reassess every affected tenant as per the recent Fife rulings?”
Labour councils in Wirral, Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens and Halton have also refused to do anything to alleviate the agony of affected tenants, despite the Fife QC’s statement that it is incumbent on them to reassess ALL bedrooms on the grounds that:
“It’s up to the local authority to make its own decision that the landlord has accurately described the property. Because this is an appeal, it is now for me to decide what a bedroom is. In this case, the council has made a decision based on the landlord’s description but hasn’t even gone round to inspect the room.”
Furthermore, there have now been two rulings (1, 2) that rooms under seventy square feet cannot be counted as bedrooms, and usage must be taken into account. Still, Labour councils are refusing to step up to their responsibility. Just this week, Wirral council chief executive Graham Burgess deceptively and falsely replied to the South Wirral campaign that: “This [Fife] is a one off special case – it is unlikely that Wirral will be affected by it.” With the Department for Work and Pensions seeking leave to appeal, this position is unlikely to change any time soon.
If tenants can be found who are being charged bedroom tax for rooms of under seventy square feet, and if they have no existing arrears, a non-payment campaign could be an excellent way of forcing the issue. Of course, it would be up to the tenants concerned, and they would need support and solidarity from their local groups within the larger Federation. Still, combined with media attention-grabbing demonstrations, it could be a great tactic for embarrassing the local Labour politicians, and especially those who have made a show of opposing the bedroom tax.
It seems possible that one final push could finish the bedroom tax off, and deal the coalition government a massive blow.