Families in Housing Crisis – Northampton
If ever there was evidence of the impact of the Conservative – Liberal Democrat Coalition changes to housing benefits it is the latest reports that show the number of tenant evictions in England and Wales is at an all-time high.
What is absolutely unforgivable is the number of Local Authorities who have without challenge or objection gone along and supported the Government’s policies.
According to the data from the Ministry of Justice almost 38,000 tenants were taken to court and ordered to return the keys to their property because of rent arrears in 2013.
The highest number since records started to be collected in 2000.
What is disturbing to those of us who have been consistent in opposing and warning of the very consequences we are now experiencing is that this only applies to those who were taken to Court and not those who became homeless without court action being taken against them.
What other records demonstrate is that over 60,000 tenants became homeless during the last year, and of course it isn’t only the tenant, the name on the lease, who become homeless but their families.
A concern is not only the number of families finding themselves homeless but the increase in the number of tenants who Landlords have started the process of repossession against being almost 171,000 in 2013.
Of course it is difficult to establish exactly why people are getting into difficulties and if we are to believe the Conservatives it is because as part of their demonization of millions and justification for cuts, families are spending their money on beer, fags and bingo.
It is the Conservatives political approach simply designed to categorise people and families as being of lesser value than others.
By setting community against community and neighbour against neighbour they are creating a divided society that they are exploiting for their own purposes.
At a recent Northampton Borough Council meeting the Deputy Leader who is also responsible for Housing in the Borough when asked the very simple question
“Can we have updates figures on the number of households in arrears as a consequence of the bedroom tax”?
“303 tenants subject to the under-occupancy change did not have arrears on 1st April but had arrears at the end of December. The bottom line here is that we cannot be certain why anyone falls into arrears, so the question can’t be answered with total clarity”
If ever an answer demonstrates the Northampton Conservatives incompetence and lack of interest in housing tenants then this was it and I’ll return to it later.
I should explain at this point that the last time I criticised Cllr Mary Markham and her Conservative colleagues she tried to spin it as a criticism of the Housing Staff.
A strange accusation when it was the Leader of the Council who referred to NBC staff as ‘deadwood’.
I am very clear that the failure is about political leadership and political policy not the staff who are having to carry out a very difficult job with reduced numbers and no senior professional managers all of who Cllr Markham decided were no longer needed.
A survey of 183 Housing Associations has revealed that 66% of their tenants who were subject to bedroom tax benefit changes had fallen six months behind with their rent.
What the Housing Association clearly have to their credit done is identify those who were subject to the changes and tracked the changes in their circumstances and rent arrears,
Which begs the question,
” Why didn’t the Northampton Conservatives put into place a policy to track and keep in contact with the 303 NBC tenants subject to the bedroom tax”
After all they were quick enough to identify them when implementing the cuts?
The fact is that since April 2013 tenants who the Government consider to have one ‘spare bedroom’ or two ‘spare bedrooms’ have had their housing benefit cut by 14% and 25% respectively.
What the Government keep insisting on is that rents have on average only increased by an average of 1% in the last year which is simply not only untrue but an example of telling deliberate lies in order to hype up the demonization of those in receipt of housing benefits.
I make no pretence of being an economist but in Northampton the average rent increase last year was over 3% but even I can work out that the impact is well over a 1% increase for tenants subject to the reduction because of the bedroom tax.
As with Conservatives up and down the country the Northampton Conservatives keep insisting that the changes are having a minimal impact to a minimum of tenants and anyway they can always ‘downsize’.
Except as the Chief Executive, David Orr of the National Housing Federation has pointed out, and as many of us have been saying,
“There just isn’t enough of the smaller size homes available for the families to move into”
Which means the whole of the Governments premise on which the policy is based to free up family homes and reduce the level of housing benefits is fundamentally flawed.
All it is succeeding in doing is to increase poverty, increase rent arrears, increase homelessness and increase the stress and pressure on families who are facing increased hardship.
The National picture is reflected locally in Northampton where the impact on housing is now beginning to show.
It is an absolute disgrace that the Northampton Conservatives continue to support and refuse to challenge the Government policies that has seen an increase not only in Council Tenant Arrears but also Homelessness.
The level of arrears in November 2013 reached a peak of over £1.84 million, the highest level since 2007/2008 when it was £1.71 million but even more disturbing is the distribution of the debt.
Of the 5118 (42.3%) of Council Tenants in arrears (Nov 2013) 3586 owed between 1 & 6 weeks, 542 owed between 7 & 11 weeks and more worrying 990 owed over 12 weeks of rent.
It is amazing that at the same time arrears have and continue to increase what the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council appear to think was more important is to boast about how they have got rid of the professional housing managers.
Perhaps if they had listened to the professionals they would have implemented policies to track why arrears are increasing.
The speed and secrecy around the housing officer’s departure make you think the rumours that it was a result of them challenging and annoying the Leader of the Council was the real reason for their departure.
In the meantime of course the seriousness of the situation for families facing legal action over arrears and possible eviction cannot be underestimated.
It brings into question just how serious was Cllr Markham when she said that she would instigate action against tenants after they had have fallen two weeks in arrears and reportedly during a meeting said she would “evict them”.
The difficulty of course is what happens next.
Do the Northampton Conservatives now instigate eviction proceedings against the 5118 tenants who are in arrears?
Or the 990 who are over 12 weeks in arrears?
Do we have, at a practical level, the legal and financial resources to instigate the eviction proceedings?
What is an absolute disgrace and irrefutable is that many of those who are now facing financial difficulties and possible eviction and homelessness are doing so because of the Conservatives policies.
They face eviction simply because they can’t find the extra money to keep a roof over their heads, put food on the table for their families through no fault of their own.
They are people, the majority of who are working for the National Minimum Wage or in order to keep their job have had a pay freeze for almost 5 years and have done nothing wrong who are now being cruelly penalised by the Conservatives.
It is a disgrace and perhaps another example of the Conservatives failure that the number of families who were in Bed and Breakfast or Temporary Accommodation in November last year was in total 67 the highest number for over 7 years.
Sadly over Christmas there were 27 families in Bed and Breakfast including 18 children.
Perhaps the cruellest and most revealing comment about this whole sorry situation came from a leading Conservative when she said,
“The signs are that people are coping pretty well”
How on earth in what is one of the richest countries on the planet can anyone believe that people and families “coping pretty well” with poverty and facing the prospect of homelessness is acceptable?
Northampton Conservatives apparently think it’s alright to ‘cope’!!!!!!!
I’m not sure their callous and casual attitude is shared by many sensible and reasonable people.