Are landlord councillors resorting to illegal antics to enforce Bedroom Tax evictions?

Taking no notice: Councillors appear to be breaking the law in order to enforce Bedroom Tax evictions. [Picture: The Guardian}

Taking no notice: Councillors appear to be breaking the law in order to enforce Bedroom Tax evictions. [Picture: The Guardian}

It seems the ruling group of Powys County Council, here in Mid Wales, has challenged the law in its attempts to block a ‘no-eviction’ motion on the Bedroom Tax.

The Labour motion was put forward at a meeting of the full council on October 24. It called on councillors to note the comments of Raquel Rolnik, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Housing, who said that the Bedroom Tax policy could constitute a violation of the human right to adequate housing, and asked them to pledge that Powys will not evict tenants who fail to pay their rent because of it.

Councillors who are also private landlords were forbidden from speaking or voting on the motion. They have a financial (or pecuniary) interest in the matter as they stand to benefit if social housing tenants are forced to seek accommodation with them as a result of the policy. This meant around 30 councillors had to leave the chamber.

It seems that members of the ruling Shires Independent Group, realising that there was a real possibility that the motion would be carried, then called for any members who are themselves social housing tenants – or have friends or family who are social housing tenants – should also be barred from taking part.

This made it impossible to continue the debate. The matter has been passed to the council’s Standards Committee, whose members have been asked to judge whether landlord councillors should receive special dispensation in order to debate the motion.

It seems that this decision is wrong in law.

According to Essential Local Government, a journalistic textbook from the Vox Political vaults, “In some cases, the Secretary of State for the Environment or Secretary of State for Wales can issue either a general or particular dispensation entitling members with declared interests to take part in debates and to vote. An example of this is that councillors who are council tenants may take part in debates on, and vote on, matters relating to council housing.”

That book was published in 1993 but there is no reason to expect such a general dispensation to have been removed and therefore it seems that any call for councillors who are tenants – or who know tenants – not to be able to take part in a debate can have no basis in law.

The motion should have been debated by councillor-tenants and members with no interest, and a decision made on the day, nearly a month ago. The delay means social housing tenants in Powys (and VP knows of 686 affected households in the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency alone) may have been subjected to an unnecessary month of evictions or threats of eviction.

It has been suggested that the decision to block the motion may have been prompted by figures from the House of Commons library which suggest that as a result of the Bedroom Tax the amount of Housing Benefit paid to private landlords (remember, HB is a landlord subsidy and does not enrich tenants at all) will rise from £7.9 billion to £9.4 billion.

If the Standards Committee decides to allow them to debate the motion, it is likely that the decision will therefore be corrupt.

The matter went unreported by the local press because none of the newspapers had sent any reporters to cover the meeting.

How many other councils, across the UK, have voted on ‘no evictions’ motions under a false understanding of who can take part? VP knows that Bristol City Council has debated the matter with a controversial result.

Meanwhile, for tenants up and down the country, the agony goes on.

15 thoughts on “Are landlord councillors resorting to illegal antics to enforce Bedroom Tax evictions?

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  2. Florence

    The policy is laid bare in all it’s ugliness in this article about Welsh HAs and their tenants. It’s beyond evil, it is using the deliberate infliction of human suffering on those totally unable to change their circumstances, as a means to smash the social housing sector. As usual for this government, the means is equal if not more important than the end.

    There is also a link to the Shelter Cymru site with a pack to help people challenge this evil tax. Although a help, in reality an appeal is another stressful episode in the degrading and depressing process to make thousands homeless, and behind each and every one is the story of depression, hunger, despair, family and social breakdown, rent arrears, eviction threats, and debt – for many the first time ever they have been in any sort of arrears for housing.

    They really do want us too hungry and cold and homeless to fight back, don’t they?

    1. Big Bill

      No, they just want the land with social housing on it cleared so they can build luxury flats to act as an asset class to hide money in for their hyper-criminal chums. How you are in the meantime is irrelevant.

      1. Florence

        I very much doubt that anyone is interested in social housing land in most of Wales, especially in the ex-mining villages where there is much of the hardship. There just isn’t the demand in local economies that have never recovered from the de-industrialisation of the 1980’s and Thatcher for premium redevelopment.

        Although I do not doubt that to be a factor in the SE and larger conurbations.

      2. Mike Sivier

        You’ve never been to Powys, have you? There’s a lot of beautiful scenery here and it is a very attractive place for retired people who want second homes (for example).

      3. Florence

        Mike – I know about Wales , and I have been to Powys (I live in a National Park in Wales, so appreciate the beauty of the land). I wasn’t trying to be disparaging in any way about the ex Mining Villages etc in terms of landscape, amenity and people. I was only pointing out that the locust swarms of developers are after real estate in prosperous areas. I think we may agree that there are areas in post-industrial Wales, where there is not the same competition for land, and there is not the same concentration of wealth as in more urban or prosperous areas of the UK. I would posit the same for areas in Northern England, and Scotland where there may be empty social housing as a result of the bedroom tax. I stand by my original remark – that there are areas where the local economies failed to boom after the industries were decimated in the 80’s that do not have the total disposable wealth that makes there fast-buck developments successful.

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  4. beastrabban

    Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    One of the most useful made up words I’ve come across is ‘Democrapologist’. This was coined by an American journalist in the 1970s, and refers to the kind of politician that talks a lot about democracy, but really doesn’t believe in it whatsoever. Judging by this article, it seems that the landlord councillors on Powys council and their friends in the Shires Independent Group are a whole bunch of such people in their efforts to curtail the debate on a ban against the eviction of tenants for non-payment of the ‘Bedroom Tax’. Mike demonstrates that their demands for councillors, who are tenants or know tenants, to withdraw from the debate for the same reason of personal interest by which councillors, who were landlords, were forced to withdraw, is completely invalid. The book ‘Essential Local Government’ states that exemptions can be made to the rules governing debates in which there is a personal interest, such as that allowing councillors, who are tenants, to vote on issues regarding council housing. Once again, in the attempt to block the Labour motion against the eviction of social housing tenants for non-payments of the iniquitous tax, we see Tories’ and their coalition partners’ complete rejection of any kind of compassion or social responsibility. Regarding democrapology, the Tories are full of it.

  5. joehalewood

    Mike – do you have a link to the Lords view that HB (LHA) will increase from £7.9bn per year to £9.4bn per annum?

    I ask for two reasons. Firstly the overall total PRs HB bill stands at over £9.2bn at the latest figures in any case and not £7.9bn.

    Secondly, if this is forecast to rise by £1.5bn per annum (£7.9bn to £9.4bn) then that £1.5bn is more than 3 times the yearly claimed saving of the bedroom tax itself

    1. Mike Sivier

      You’ll have noticed I phrased that part of the article very cautiously, because it hasn’t been suggested by me, and I don’t have access to the HoC Library to check the veracity of those figures.

      I included the allegation in the article because it clarifies the situation: Any councillor who is a landlord and approves the eviction of a person from social housing – in the knowledge that they may then have to seek accommodation from them – has a vested interest in doing so and the decision must therefore be corrupt.

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