ROS WYNNE JONES’ REAL BRITAIN
Just over a month since the tax began letters with the words “final demand” and even “eviction” written on them started arriving
And so the Bedroom Tax evictions have started.
This weekend, just over a month since the tax began, came letters with the words “final demand” and even “eviction” written on them.
“The letter was hand-delivered,” says Alan in Lanarkshire, who I spoke to in Scotland on Monday.
“On a Sunday. An eviction letter because I owe £50.10 Bedroom Tax.”
By any definition, Alan is one of the country’s more vulnerable people.
Now aged 38, he grew up in care and has been deeply affected by a series of family tragedies, including the suicide of his mother.
In 2003, he had a breakdown and suffers from an acute depressive disorder as well as several physical problems.
For personal reasons he doesn’t want me to use his full name, but his problems are real enough.
Alan’s council flat is his sanctuary. He is too frightened to leave home except to go to the hospital for appointments with a psychologist.
You can imagine how a hand-delivered eviction letter affected him.
Labour-run North Lanarkshire is Scotland’s biggest council housing landlord, and 6,038 people there are affected by the Bedroom Tax.
The council’s leader Jim McCabe has vocally opposed the cut, calling it “the single worst piece of legislation I have ever seen”.
Yet while many councils across the country have said they will do everything they can to avoid evicting people who cannot afford the Bedroom Tax, North Lanarkshire say they are not adopting a “no evictions” policy until they have studied the impact of reforms.
Alan says he only ever wanted a one-bedroom council flat.
“I was told there weren’t any available,” he says. “They insisted I take a two-bedroom one.”
He has since asked to downsize to avoid the tax but there are only 90 one-bedroom properties available in the whole borough and thousands of people are in his situation.
More than 90% of the flats were occupied even before the Bedroom Tax.
Meanwhile, this weekend, a series of Bedroom Tax eviction notices also emerged in South Lanarkshire – a separate, neighbouring Labour council.
Those affected included Angela Buskie, a mother of three from East Kilbride, who has been targeted over arrears of less than £130.
Her letter said: “If you do not pay, we will take legal action against you. This means you could be evicted from your home.
“If you are evicted for not paying your rent, we can still collect payments for the money you owe us straight from your wages or your bank.”
The leader of South Lanarkshire council, Eddie McAvoy, claims the letter was a mistake – despite the fact it was also hand delivered.
Meanwhile, Angela Buskie’s solicitor Gordon Dangerfield says he has three other cases in the borough.
McAvoy has now vowed that the council will not ask tenants to pay Bedroom Tax arrears until at least April 2014.
Angela says this will only delay the inevitable:
“I will still be getting into arrears and worrying about how I am going to pay.”
In North Lanarkshire, Alan’s eviction letter came despite the fact he has lodged an application for a Discretionary Housing Payment – the emergency handouts the Government claim will help the vulnerable.
Dangerfield says his clients in the neighbouring borough are all in the same position.
North Lanarkshire council, which is facing £64million in cuts handed down from central Government, says it has set aside £5.3million to help people affected by welfare reform.
In April, 1,451 applications were made to the local DHP emergency fund. A year ago, that figure was just 37 people.
A spokesman for the council said it does not discuss individual cases, and has not sent out eviction letters.
Alan’s letter doesn’t use the word “eviction” explicitly.
But it does say:
“This letter is notification that North Lanarkshire Council will be raising proceedings for the possession of the dwelling house at [his address] due to outstanding rent arrears.”
Which sounds a lot like eviction to Alan.
He also owes £80 for a lost front door key, and he is struggling to pay that. Before he became ill, Alan used to work with homeless people.
“I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do,” he says. “I’d be living on the streets with my old clients.
“The thing is, if I managed to borrow the money now, in the next couple of months I’ll owe another £50. It will be endless.”
It is unclear why Lanarkshire – north and south – are putting eviction on the agenda so much earlier than other councils.
But, with 660,000 people affected by Bedroom Tax nationwide, it is more than a taste of things to come.
Nearly 400 miles away in London, the High Court is still considering a verdict on whether Bedroom Tax discriminates against disabled people.
The stories of the 10 test cases from across the UK are heartbreaking – victims of assault and abuse, children with Down’s Syndrome, a woman with spina bifida.
All of them now penalised by cruel, poorly thought out welfare changes.
Alan, raised in care, lives in isolation, walled in by anxiety.
“I’ve a couple of wee cats I’ll have to take to a shelter now,” he says. “Beyond that, well, if I had a rope in the house…” His voice falters. “I might be using it. That’s how they get to you.”
To hear someone discussing welfare reform in such grave terms is now becoming distressingly commonplace.
A grandmother has already taken her own life. But still the Government’s austerity steamroller rumbles on.
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