Press release 22/09/2014 Stroud Against The Cuts
Contact: James Beecher
or Caroline Molloy 07931 302507.
Summary: Tenants affected by the bedroom tax may have a chance to reclaim their arrears if they act quickly, campaign group Stroud Against the Cuts have discovered, through working with affected tenants. The issue is growing in seriousness, with around 350 tenants affected, most in mounting arrears, and 18 already having been served with repossession orders, thus facing serious threat of eviction. Campaigners have also discovered that SDC has also handed back government money offered to help tenants in arrears, even as some tenants have been refused access to this money (1).
At last week’s SDC Housing Committee (2) Stroud Against the Cuts campaigner and Green councillor for Stroud Central Cllr Caroline Molloy highlighted a national test case that could potentially give Stroud social housing tenants the opportunity to reclaim all their arrears – but only if they submit a formal appeal to the Council’s Housing Benefit Department within the next month.
Local campaigners have learned from national campaigners that other councils are taking more robust action to help tenants affected by the bedroom tax. Some have made it easier for people to get the government financial assistance that is available, or have reclassified very small rooms so that they are not inappropriately referred to as ‘spare bedrooms’.
James Beecher pointed out that last year SDC said: “The reclassifying of properties was found to be inappropriate for a number of reasons and was dismissed as an option… We do not regard any Council properties in Stroud to have such an anomaly. (3)” But Beecher said: “I was disgusted to discover that the very first tenant who approached Stroud Against the Cuts had a ‘spare room’ so small that, if she let it out to a lodger as the council advised, she would be breaking housing law.” (4)
Another tenant, Vanessa d’Esterre, a Stroud mum affected by the bedroom tax, said: “Since April 2013 my housing benefit payments have been reduced by just under £130 per month, leaving me to make up the shortfall. As a result, I have had to cut back to the point where I am eating once a day. I have also had to withdraw from my University studies. The financial stress has added to my already existing post-traumatic health issues. I am prepared to move, and have advertised continuously on 'Home Swapper' for the past three years, but there aren’t enough properties available and too many tenants are trapped by debts – often caused by the bedroom tax.
I wasn’t aware that I had a right to appeal the decision to reduce my housing benefit – but I will be doing so as soon as possible.”
The Housing Committee agreed to Cllr Caroline Molloy’s request that the council urgently deliver an overdue report on how it administers the bedroom tax. Cllr Molloy also asked the council to write to all tenants affected by the bedroom tax, advising them of their rights to appeal and the importance of doing so in the next month. She advised the housing committee that this could well happen at no cost to the council as potentially arrears could be backdated by central government in such cases.
Cllr Molloy said: “I was disappointed that the Housing Committee declined to discuss the issue further at this time, but I will continue to work with council officers, campaigners and local agencies to urgently notify tenants of their right to appeal. I am also pushing the council to measure and reclassify any small rooms, or those which have reasonable alternative use.”
James Beecher said: “We urge people affected by the bedroom tax to get in touch in the next month so we can help them appeal against decisions to reduce their housing benefit. Tenants have nothing to lose by appealing – but a chance of winning their arrears backdated, particularly if their spare room is too small, if someone has a disability, caring responsibilities, or has experienced domestic violence.”
If any tenant needs help with filling in their appeal form, there is guidance and the official GL24 form (5) on the Stroud Against the Cuts website, or they can contact Cllr Molloy on 07931 302507.
Notes for editors:
1. Stroud District Council was, like all councils, given a pot of money from central government to help
tenants hit by the bedroom tax (‘Discretionary Housing Payment’), but Cllr Molloy has discovered
that the council failed to give it all to tenants and ended up giving much of the money back to
government, even as some tenants who applied have been refused support and are now in serious
2. The Housing Committee meeting, held on Tuesday 16th September, can be watched online here:
http://www.strouddc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/134380. Cllr Caroline Molloy speaks
regarding the Bedroom Tax from 19:35 (or 15 minutes into the webcast).
3. See the Briefing Note “Supporting Tenants through Welfare Reform”, produced for the SDC Housing
Committee meeting on 19 September 2013: http://connect.strouddc.publici.tv/document/Ag10_Task_and_Finish_Briefing_Note_to_Hsg_Committee.pdf
4. See paragraph 326 of the Housing Act 1988, which details that a room under 70 sq. ft. is only
deemed a suitable as a bedroom for a child under 10. The room of the affected tenant in Stroud was
measured by a SDC Housing Officer at 3.067m x 2.052m or 6.293m2. This equates to 67.737 sq ft,
under the ‘space standard’.
5. The ‘Appeal a Benefit Decision’ GL24 form is available www.stroudagainstcuts.co.uk.