Tag Archives: Localism Act

Evictions begin as government starts grabbing your homes

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It is easy to get caught up in headlines and forget that the Coalition’s benefit reforms mean people you know will lose their homes.

You know what happens then? PEOPLE YOU KNOW START LOSING THEIR HOMES.

Vox Political was warning the world about this back in 2012 – nearly two years ago – saying the bedroom tax would put people on the streets while homes go empty and warning about the ‘Poll Tax revival plan to take away your home’. It gives me no pleasure at all to report that I was right.

This week I heard about two cases in my Mid Wales town. You may think that isn’t many, but this is a town with a population of less than 5,000 – and I haven’t heard about every case.

The first involves a family that has been living in the same council house for more than 30 years. Sadly the head of the household recently had a stroke and has been forced to move into a care home. In the past, the tenancy would have been handed down to the next generation of the family – two sons, one of whom has a family of his own. The other is a friend of mine, of excellent character. By day he works very hard at his job; after hours, he is a member of a popular local band (along with his brother, as it happens). They are what this government would call “strivers”.

But they are being penalised because they have been told to vacate the only home they have had. Not only that, they are being asked to stump up a small fortune in backdated rent (as their father has been paying for his care, not the house) and another small fortune to dispose of carpets they cannot take with them, which the council does not want.

When I spoke to my friend yesterday, he told me that the council simply does not want him or his brother as tenants because “it is easier to process a large family who are on benefits”. I queried this, and it seems likely that this is to do with the forthcoming Universal Credit system, and with the Council Tax Reduction Scheme (also known as the Pickles Poll Tax); it is easier to handle Universal Credit and council tax claims if the authorities have foreknowledge of a household’s income.

We both agreed that there is a serious drawback to this thinking.

Large families do not want to move into vacant social accommodation because they fear what the government – national and local – will do to them if their circumstances change. Children grow up; adults move out – and that will make them vulnerable to the Bedroom Tax. Suddenly their benefits won’t be enough to pay the rent and they, in turn, will be turfed out onto the streets. They know it is a trap; they will try to avoid it.

My friend agreed. “That house is going to stay empty for a very long time,” he said.

This is madness. Here are two people who are perfectly willing and able to pay the council’s rent, on time, for as long as they need the property but, because of the Welfare Reform Act and the Localism Act, the council is treating them abominably and the house will end up providing no income at all.

If you think that’s bad, though, just wait until you learn about my other friend!

He is an older gentleman who has been disabled for many years. He had been living in a small, two-bedroomed house that had been adapted to accommodate his needs. We know precisely how much these adaptations cost to install at current rates: £5,000.

I believe he needed the extra bedroom to accommodate carer needs but I could be mistaken.

Along came the Bedroom Tax and suddenly he did not have enough income to cover the cost of living there. The council (or social landlord, I have to admit I’m not sure) sent him an eviction notice. He appealed.

Guess what? His appeal was set to be decided after the date he was ordered to be out of his home.

So he had to go. He was lucky enough to find another place to live, and all the equipment he needs to accommodate his disability moved along with him – at a cost of £5,000.

Then he received the judgement on his appeal: He was exempt from paying the Bedroom Tax; he should never have been forced to move.

Is this British justice?

This country was once the envy of the world because we were far more enlightened than any other nation in our policies of social justice and inclusion. Not any more! Now we are regressing into a new dark age in which the squalid Shylocks infesting Westminster manipulate local authorities into performing grubby property grabs for them.

Is the ‘Bulldog Spirit’ that made us famous for standing our ground during the Blitz now being turned to hounding the poor out of their homes?

Are you willing to put up with this?

In Iceland, they marched to their Parliament and set up camp outside until the government gave up and agreed to the demands of the people. Here, an unmandated government rides roughshod over democracy while you sit at home watching The X Factor, Coronation Street and the Winter Olympics.

Nothing will change until you change it – but you know this already. The simple fact is that, if you are reading this article, you probably sympathise with the sentiments it is expressing and are already active in opposing the heinous crimes being committed against our people.

There are not enough of you. People who need to read these words are being allowed to live in ignorance, lulled into inactivity by the right-wing mass media.

It’s time to put an end to that. There can be no excuse for ignorance and inaction while people are being made homeless. Think of someone you know who needs to be shown the truth and make them read this article. Ask them what they think of it and explain the facts of what is happening around them.

Then tell them to pass it on to someone they know.

Spread the word – don’t keep it to yourself. And don’t sit on your thumbs and expect somebody else to do your bit for you. If you don’t act, why should anybody else? What’s the point of me writing these articles if you can’t be bothered to do anything about it? Are you going to wait until someone tells you they want your home?

Then it will be too late.

I’ll know if you succeed because it will be reflected in the number of times this article is viewed. I’ll report the results of this experiment next week.

Don’t let yourself down.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Conference vote leaves Lib Dems facing both ways on Bedroom Tax

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“So what’s new?” you’re probably thinking.

Well, the passing of the motion to condemn the Bedroom Tax as official Liberal Democrat policy indicates that there is a huge rift between the way grassroots Lib Dems think and what the Parliamentary Party is doing.

But is it enough to force a split in the Coa-lamity – sorry, Coalition – before the next election, as Vince Cable has hinted?

Who knows? It’s the Lib Dems.

It could indicate that time is running out for the ‘Orange Book’ Liberal Democrats, who include Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander among their number – despite claims by the Daily Telegraph that they have become more influential.

My brother, the blogger beastrabban, told me of a recent conversation between a friend of his and a former Liberal Democrat MP, in which the ex-Hon Gentleman made his opinion of the Orange Bookers – the party’s right-wingers – perfectly clear: “They’re not Liberal”.

This certainly seems to be the feeling of the party’s rank-and-file. Julie Porksen, the Northumbrian member who tabled the Bedroom Tax motion, said: “We are Liberal Democrats and we do not kick people when they are down.”

This may have come as quite a shock to Messrs Clegg, Alexander, David Laws (editor of the Orange Book) and their nearly-Tory buddies, who have been merrily kicking people when they were down ever since they decided they weren’t going to abolish student fees after all, but would help the Tories increase them instead.

Since then, Parliamentary Liberal Democrats have helped force some of the worst injustices of modern times onto the British people, including the Health and Social Care Act, the Welfare Reform Act, the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act, the Localism Act and, yes, the Bedroom Tax.

Nick Clegg is clearly a long, long way out of touch with his members. All he could say about it at conference was that “you would have to be made of granite” not to have feelings on the issue.

Would he commit to changing it? No.

So it seems the Liberal Democrat leader is refusing to carry out the will of his party. I wonder what they’re going to do about it?

One way Clegg could save his career might be to bring the Coalition to an early end, as suggested by Vince Cable at a fringe event arranged by the Independent.

But it seems likely Cable was just causing mischief. “It is obviously a very sensitive one. It has got to be led by the leader,” he said.

Again, this would put Clegg in a very awkward position. Splitting the Coalition means giving up the only power or influence he is ever likely to have.

At the end of the day, it’s not going to make much real difference. After the 2015 election his party will probably have fewer MPs than the DUP, if local election results are any indication. He must take responsibility for that – his leadership is bringing his party to the brink of oblivion.

Nick Robinson’s speculation that Clegg could jump from coalition with Cameron to an alliance with Ed Miliband is, therefore, premature.

But there’s another Liberal Democrat conference to come before the general election. Maybe, by then, Nick Clegg will have grasped that he needs to put his party’s best interests before his own ambitions.

Osborne-created tax loophole diddles the UK out of hundreds of millions

A tax avoidance loophole specially created by George Osborne, the UK Chancellor, last year means that water companies have played the system to reduce their tax bills to a trickle.

Some people just don’t know when it’s time to do the right thing.

Look at the three water companies that are paying practically no tax on their huge profits, while yanking up prices every year according to the retail price index and enjoying a monopoly in their areas – according to today’s report in The Observer.

Thames Water avoids tax by offsetting the interest payments on its debts against its tax liability and delaying it by claiming allowances on capital project spending. The company is seeking government support for a £4.1bn project to build a new “super sewer” under the Thames.

Anglian lent £1,609.1m to a subsidiary company in the Cayman Islands tax haven in 2002. This year it was able to pay £478.1m in equity dividends to investors, including its subsidiary in the tax haven.

Yorkshire Water also increased the debt on its books recently, which offsets tax payments.

In other words, all three were able to exploit a new tax loophole, created by George Osborne last year – that’s right, the Chancellor who is supposedly trying to stop tax avoidance has actually been creating more ways for big business to achieve it – to pay as little tax as possible.

In my article last Monday, I highlighted changes to the tax laws, brought in by Gideon, I mean Mr 0, that mean companies in the UK pay nothing at all on money made by their foreign branches and may claim the expense of funding those foreign branches against tax paid in the UK. That is exactly what Anglian and Yorkshire are doing, according to the Observer report.

Without knowing where the Thames debt is based, it’s hard to say for certain whether it falls into this category of tax avoidance.

Thames made an operating profit of £650 million last year, and Anglia’s was £492, while Yorkshire’s was £303 million. With Corporation Tax at 26 per cent (they should all pay the higher rate), this means the Treasury failed to collect nearly £376 million from the three companies.

The amount lost to the Treasury from these three companies alone would pay off three-quarters of what the government hopes to take away from people currently on council tax benefit, when local authorities implement their new council tax relief schemes – the ‘Pickles Poll Tax’ – in accordance with Eric Pickles’ Localism Act, next April.

Both Thames and Anglian told The Observer their tax was merely being deferred, and they would have to pay it in full at a later date. Yorkshire declined to comment.

My problem with this is that the UK is in deficit difficulties NOW. We need everybody’s tax money NOW. Not later. By exploiting a loophole in the tax system that the Chancellor irresponsibly created, they – AND HE – are extending the problem.

The absence of any significant tax bills means Thames and Anglian were able to pay out dividends totalling £1.5881 billion. I don’t have the figures for Yorkshire. Ask yourself how many of those shareholders have tax avoidance schemes of their own.

Meanwhile, those of us on PAYE have to pay the full amounts of our tax bills – and our utility bills – no matter what harm they do to our household finances. There can be no deferrals for the working-class citizen!

And what help do our bloated water companies give us?

A drop in the ocean.

Bedroom tax will put people on streets while homes go empty

The National Housing Federation ran a campaign against the ‘bedroom tax’ while the legislation was going through Parliament – but the government was blind to the concerns of this expert organisation.

By now you should know that you’ll be in financial trouble from April next year, if you receive housing benefit and the government decides you’ve got one or two too many bedrooms.

This applies to people who are working but on low pay, who must therefore claim housing benefit in order to keep a roof over their heads. This means it applies to 93 per cent of people who have claimed housing benefit since the Coalition government came to power (only seven per cent of claimants were unemployed).

It applies to separated parents who share the care of their children and who may have been allocated an extra bedroom to reflect this. Benefit rules mean that there must be a designated ‘main carer’ for children (who receives the extra benefit).

It applies to couples who use their ‘spare’ bedroom when recovering from an illness or operation.

It applies to foster carers, because foster children are not counted as part of the household for benefit purposes (this is particularly evil, in my view).

It applies to parents whose children visit but are not part of the household -although housholds where there is a room kept for a student studying away from home will not be deemed to be under-occupying if the student is away for less than 52 weeks (under housing benefit) or six months (under Universal Credit). Students are exempt from non-dependant deductions, but full-time students will not be exempt from the Housing Cost Contribution (HCC) which replaces non-dependent deductions under Universal Credit (more on this elsewhere in the article). Students over 21 will face a contribution in the region of £15 per week.

It applies to families with disabled children; and

It applies to disabled people, including those living in adapted or specially designed properties (again, this is evil, as it could mean these people will be required to leave that home for another one, with the added expense of having to re-install all the special adaptations).

Pensioners will not be affected – unless they are part of a couple and the partner is below pension age, after Universal Credit is introduced.

The size criteria that will be applied means housing benefit wil be restricted to allow for one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household. However:

Children under 16, who are either both boys or both girls, will be expected to share. This will undoubtedly create many family feuds as puberty is not known for its calming effect on young people.

Children under 10 will be expected to share, regardless of gender. Again, this will create problems for families. It is not a normal situation and it seems bizarre for the government to suggest that it should be.

On the ‘plus’ side, a disabled tenant or partner who needs a non-resident overnight carer will be allowed an extra bedroom for that carer.   If you have a ‘spare’ bedroom under the new rules, you will lose 14 per cent of your housing benefit; for two or more extra bedrooms, you’ll lose a quarter of your benefit. According to the government’s impact assessment, this means 660,000 people will lose an average of £14 per week (£16 for housing association tenants).

Now for the complications.

After Universal Credit is brought in, if only one member of a couple is over pension age, the bedroom tax will apply to the household. If one is receiving Pension Credit, they will be unaffected.

There are currently six different rates of ‘non-dependent deductions’ – amounts removed from housing benefit according to the earnings of people aged over 18 who live in a household but are not dependent on the tenant for financial support. This will become one flat-rate ‘housing cost contribution’ that will be deducted from housing benefit. It will not apply to anyone aged under 21.

Under UC, each adult non-dependent will get their own room, but each must pay the full, flat-rate housing cost contribution – unless aged under 21 and therefore exempt.

Under UC, lodgers will not get a room allowance but any income is disregarded. They will not count as occupying a room under size criteria rules. Currently any income is taken into account and deducted pound for pound from benefit, apart from the first £20. As this income is completely disregarded under UC, my best guess is that the government expects this amount to cover any loss in both housing benefit and Universal Credit. I have a doubt about that. Taking in a lodger will also affect home contents insurance policies, potentially invalidating them or raising the premiums.

Bedroom tax will not apply in joint tenancy cases.

Until UC comes in, benefits will be protected for up to 52 weeks after death; afterwards the run-on will be three months.

And until UC comes in, tenants will receive 13 weeks’ protection where they could previously afford the rent and housing benefit has not been claimed in the previous year; afterwards, the size criteria will apply immediately.   Pre-1989 tenancies are not exempt from the bedroom tax.

Those are the facts relating to this particular benefit change. There are others which will also affect your ability to keep your home, but – concentrating on this for a moment – you’re probably already screaming “What does it MEAN?” in frustration at your screen.

If you’re on a low income, aged over 40 with children who have left home, or disabled, you could be not only slightly but severely and unfairly affected. It seems likely you will have to choose to either pay the extra amount, or move. It seems likely that I will be in this category, so be assured that I sympathise completely with everyone else in the same situation.

And there will be many, many people who are. Surveys say around a third of tenants will try to move, mainly to one-bedroom properties. This is far more than the government has anticipated in its planning.

Here’s where things get suspicious: There is a national shortage of one bedroom council and housing association homes, meaning many tenants will have no choice but to move into the more expensive private sector or stay put – even though they will not be able to afford the extra costs.

The majority will stay put, but nearly eight-tenths (80 per cent) of those are worried about going into debt, with two-fifths (40 per cent) fearing they will accumulate rent arrears.

The evidence shows that, whether you move or stay put, landlords will lose income, which in turn means evictions and homelessness will increase. This is my belief. We will see a lot of people going homeless at the same time as a lot of houses go empty.

In fact, homelessness is already on the rise – as it always is under a Conservative government. According to the National Housing Federation – the umbrella organisation for housing associations in England – there has been a leap of nearly 50 per cent in the number of families forced into B&Bs. Between January and March this year, they totalled 3,960, compared with 2,750 during the same period in 2011. That number will escalate under the new legislation.

Any fool can see that this is madness. The logical choice has to be that people, who would otherwise go homeless, should be housed in buildings that would otherwise go empty.

But we are under the heel of a government that has little to do with sanity. The sane choice – in order to keep housing benefit payments down – is to cap rents at a particular, affordable, level. This way, landlords receive a steady amount of money, tenants keep their homes, and housing benefit remains manageable. But the government cannot tolerate this as it is deemed to be unwarranted interference in the market. Never mind the fact that the market could collapse if enough homes go empty! The idea is that the steady drive to increase rents will attract people rich enough to afford them. Again, one wonders where these people are and how they will be able to pay. Also, every price bubble eventually pops, so sooner or later – again – we’ll have a lot of homeless people on the streets while buildings go empty and (eventually) derelict.

Am I painting a depressing picture? Let’s add to the misery by reminding you that housing benefit is being withdrawn for everybody aged under 25. The assumption is that they will return to the family home if they can’t afford their rent – but that is a big assumption. There may be reasons they cannot do so (I’m sure you can imagine some for yourself). what do they do then? Housing benefit itself is being capped. And then there is the Localism Act and its effect on Council Tax payments. From responses to my previous article about the so-called ‘Pickles Poll Tax’, you will be able to see that some councils will add as much as 30 per cent of the council tax bill to the costs of those tenants who currently receive full council tax benefit, regardless of whether they can afford to pay. And has anybody said anything recently about the plan to cap all benefits at £500-per-week-per-household?

If you want to call on the government to axe the bedroom tax, there is an e-petition against it: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/33438

Cameron’s benefits bungling could cost you your home

When Mr Cameron’s housing benefits cap takes effect, along with the increased council tax bill for those on benefits, how long will it be before working-class Tories find their representatives have forced them out of their homes?

It’s the kind of ignorance that could kill off the Working-Class Tory.

We all knew David Cameron had his head in the clouds (or where the sun doesn’t shine) when he asked what hard-working people were meant to think when they see individual families getting up to £60,000 of housing benefit. I believe the Conservative Party has yet to provide proof of the claim.

The fact is that a huge amount of new housing benefit claimants are in work themselves – so Mr Cameron’s argument was utterly defeated before he had even uttered a word of it.

Today (Monday) the National Housing Federation has stated that a failure to build new houses has led to an 86 per cent rise in working people claiming housing benefit between May 2009-2012, as rents and mortgages have soared.

An extra 10,000 new claims are being made each month.

The solution is simple; I’ve pointed it out in this very blog, many times – cap rents.

Instead, Mr Cameron said he was capping housing benefit, meaning hard-working families will have to tighten their belts and cut back even further on their other outgoings, just to keep a roof over their heads. They might not be able to afford to heat their home as well as last year (I doubt a working family qualifies for the Winter fuel allowance). They might not be able to eat as well as they did last year, as food prices are rocketing. But don’t worry – their landlords will carry on doing just fine, thank you very much!

(Until the family’s earnings can’t be stretched any further and they are forced out and – because the rent is too high for anyone else, the property becomes vacant and derelict. Landlords: Isn’t it wiser to make rents affordable and at least have some regular income from your property?)

In his speech to the Conservative Party conference, Mr Cameron said: “Because of our welfare cap, no family will be getting more in benefits than the average family earns.”

But it seems the average family doesn’t earn enough to stay off benefits! So what, exactly, was Mr Cameron saying, there? That he’s putting the average British family into an ever-decreasing recursive benefit loop?

The worst nonsense was the choice he said we give our young people today:   “Choice one: Work hard. Go to college. Get a job. Live at home. Save up for a flat […] Or: Don’t get a job. Sign on. Don’t even need to produce a CV when you do sign on. Get housing benefit. Get a flat. And then don’t ever get a job or you’ll lose a load of housing benefit.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Since people with jobs are on housing benefit, we already know this was a pile of hooey, but we also know that he’s capping that benefit, so people with jobs are going to lose a load of housing benefit as well!

“And we’re going to look at ending automatic access to housing benefit for people under 25 too.” So, if you’re aged under 25, Mr Cameron is pulling the ground out from beneath your feet, before you’ve even got on your feet!

And let’s not forget the threat of the Localism Act, which will add to the council tax bill payable on your home. If you are in a working family that receives housing benefit, you will most likely be in receipt of council tax benefit as well, and this means even more money will have to come from your tight budget, as of next April.

So here’s my question, for anyone who still thinks they’re a working-class Tory: When all these cuts and new taxes have done their worst to you, and you’ve moved back to live with mum and dad (or gran and grandad) simply to have a (rather overcrowded) roof over your head, and the next election rolls around, are you really going to tell me that you think David Cameron’s Conservative Party is your best choice?

Why are councils silent about the Localism Act’s eviction threat?

If you don’t have a plan to deal with the financial demands of the Localism Act, this could be you.

Has anyone received any information from their local authority about how it plans to implement the new council tax support scheme required by the Localism Act?

This scheme will be running from the beginning of April next year (2013), and it is therefore a matter of urgency that we find out what it will involve. Or is it our councils’ intention to take us all by surprise?

It is two months since I wrote my article on the subject, Poll Tax revival plan to take away your home, and I have heard nothing from my own local authority.

I have therefore written a letter, asking for information. If you are in the same situation, you may wish to use what follows as a template:

Dear County Council,

You will be aware that the Coalition government’s Localism Act means that Council Tax Benefit will be scrapped from April next year. Instead, local authorities – such as yours – will be compelled to set up local council tax support schemes. The aim is to cut 10 per cent from the current council tax benefit bill, or around £470 million.

Because pensioners will not be attacked in this way (at this time) – the legislation exempts them – this means working-age people are likely to face a loss of at least 16 per cent of their benefit.

Councils could choose to reduce spending in other areas or increase council tax, but these would affect groups other than current benefit recipients and so, in the name of fairness, I think we can be sure those who are on benefit now will end up paying that £470 million bill.

You can be sure that the illusion of choice has been included by the Coalition to ensure that you – and all the other local authorities in the UK – take the blame for what will be a considerable increase in the bills being paid by poorer households. I don’t think anyone who devised the legislation stopped to think what the tax hike will be, as a proportion of claimants’ earnings.

Worse than that, though, is the fact that I have not heard a single word from you about how you plan to approach this matter. Implementation of the scheme is now less than six months away, and those who will be affected need to plan how they intend to absorb the extra expense.

My fear is that you think you can remain silent until the very last minute in the hope that this will minimise harmful publicity against you. This would be disastrous for your taxpaying constituents.

Such a policy may well leave them unable to pay their bills and therefore, ultimately, homeless.

Please publicise your proposals to deal with the demands of the Localism Act now.

Hammering the poor is no Credit to anyone – certainly not Universal

According to The Guardian, nearly half a million disabled people and their families could lose so much money under the new Universal Credit system that they could end up homeless.

The information comes from a report by a commission headed by Paralympian Lady Tanni Grey-Thompson and, yet again, shows that Tory criticism of the current benefits system as being “too complicated” is a sign that they do not understand the complexities of life for those of us who rely on the system to top-up our incomes.

From my reading of the article, the report does not take into account disabled people who are found ‘fit for work’ under the Atos assessment regime, nor does it consider the effects of the Localism Act on their Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit.

I wonder if this means the predicted increase in child poverty is now out of date and will have to be revised upwards again.

Citizens Advice, the Children’s Society and Disability Rights UK have already called for more cash to be provided for disadvantaged families. A forlorn hope. The point of this benefit (if we dare dignify it with that name) is that it is supposed to be universal, after all.

The government says the report is “highly selective” and could lead to “irresponsible scaremongering”. Of course, it is easy to say that now. The results of all this tinkering with the benefits system won’t be known for some time to come – and, if this report is to be believed, by then it will be too late to reverse the damage for hundreds of thousands of families.

Will it even do any good? Experience suggests not. All the Coalition’s tinkering has managed to achieve in two years is misery for the poor. National borrowing is on the rise.

And there are still questions to be answered about the way the new system works. What will count as earnings? will there be concessions for mothers on maternity leave? How will childcare costs be incorporated into the Universal Credit? What about extra costs for people with disabilities, and who will receive this support? What support will be available for carers? What about support for pensioners with children? How will housing costs be assessed? Will financial support for council tax be included in or separate from UC?

What about people who are trying to start up their own business – something the government is supposed to be supporting? Depending on how UC is administered, the amount of money they receive could be the difference between being able to set up in business – or not.

And, if too many people find they can’t, that could be the difference between economic revival – and not.