Record number of evictions in Coventry

Record number of evictions in Coventry

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Anti-bedroom tax campaigners prevent a tenant from being evicted

Figures released by the Ministry of Justice have shown a record number of tenants were evicted in Coventry last year. 288 homes were repossessed in the city, a 14% rise from 2014 – and the Citizens Advice Bureau has reported a 100% rise in enquiries about homelessness.

Sophie Parks, communications and marketing manager for Coventry CAB, was quoted in the Coventry Telegraph saying “The cost of living and low wages are factors but undoubtedly it is welfare reforms that are the predominant cause [of the rise in evictions].”

The MOJ figures only cover private tenancies, but last year Coventry Against the Bedroom Tax campaigners prevented two evictions from social housing properties which were caused by the bedroom tax and other benefit cuts. Sadly more evictions are to be expected with benefit cuts continuing to bite.

Coventry has become a paradise for landlords, with low regulation and plenty of students to exploit with higher rents – regardless of the consequences for communities throughout the city. The council should introduce compulsory registration for all landlords, and a cap on rents – but perhaps it’s not surprising that they haven’t done this, as at least eight Labour councillors including council leader Ann Lucas are believed to be landlords!

Coventry Socialist Party calls for:

  • No evictions here! An end to all evictions caused by benefit cuts and the bedroom tax. Join Coventry Against the Bedroom Tax‘s Anti Eviction Network!
  • Build council homes! For thousands of new council homes in Coventry.
  • End landlordism! Compulsory registration for all landlords in the city, to stop dodgy landlords ripping us off.
  • Cap rents not benefits! For a cap on rents to stop landlords milking tenants and raking in housing benefit with extortionate rents.

 

Another eviction stopped in Coventry

Another eviction stopped in Coventry

#NoEvictionsHere

#NoEvictionsHere

Coventry Against the Bedroom Tax campaigners went into action at very short notice a few days ago. For the second time in a few months we stopped an eviction planned by Whitefriars housing association. CABT chair John Boadle wrote this report.

Holbrooks resident Steve G was in such a low state from illness and benefit cuts that he had been unable to deal with it and only phoned me the afternoon before bailiffs were due at 10.30am to throw him onto the street.

We set to work as a team. I phoned Whitefriars to tell them we wouldn’t allow an eviction – and remind them of the embarrassing blaze of publicity we caused them last time! They wouldn’t back off but offered last-second negotiations in the morning.

While some Socialist Party members contacted people asking them to come out in the morning, I went round to get the full details. It turned out to be other benefit cuts that had driven Steve into rent arrears, not the bedroom tax. This gave some cause for thought, but so what? We couldn’t just walk away.

In the morning Steve, Dave Nellist and myself met Whitefriars managers. Dave calmly explained that with proper benefits advice there were a number of ways the position could be sorted out. Mindful of the blockade assembling outside Steve’s house at that very moment, the managers backed down and went with us to the County Court to seek suspension of the eviction order.

While this was happening I drove up to Steve’s house and spoke to the protesters. Twelve people had made it, which at zero notice on a working day wasn’t bad, and they had already knocked on neighbours’ doors to tell them what was happening. I explained that we had won, but only because they had made the effort to get there.

Two of us waited with Steve’s family for him to get back. An appointment to get expert benefits advice had already been made and it was great to see the looks on people’s faces changed from despair to hope. There are people out there who will help, if you ask the right ones. They had asked Geoffrey Robinson MP to help, but their call was only returned by an assistant that afternoon; he would have been talking to homeless people if it wasn’t for us!

We’d like to thank everyone who took part. We’ve now prevented two evictions at the eleventh hour, and we’ve helped a few more people before it got to that stage. With Tory benefit cuts biting, the situation will be looking even bleaker for ordinary working class families – that’s why we need a fightback against austerity now more than ever!

Coventry Socialists stop #bedroomtax eviction

Coventry Socialists stop #bedroomtax eviction

No evictions here!

No evictions here!

“Most people know the Bedroom Tax is a bad thing, and all parties except the Tories are committed to repealing it. But unlike the rest the Socialist Party has always made it clear we would do whatever it takes to defend people suffering its effects. Two years ago we set up Coventry Against The Bedroom Tax. We held public meetings with 200 in attendance, lobbied, protested and publicised, gave advice to many, went to tribunals and court hearings. We helped people get thousands of pounds via appeals and Discretionary Payments. We expected eviction attempts would be reached a year or more back, but Housing Associations like Whitefriars have been slow to take that step, not wanting to look like the villains of the piece.

Suddently this changed when Charterhouse resident Archie Millar phoned last week to say he was to be evicted at 10.00 on Monday. Archie has lived on St Margaret Road since 1976, becoming the tenant when his mother passed away nine years ago. He used to work for Parcelforce but is now unemployed, getting £72 JSA plus his rent via Housing Benefit. The Bedroom Tax means a £25 shortfall in that, which he’s expected to meet out of his JSA leaving him with just £47 a week to pay his bills and live on. Clearly that’s impossible and despite making some payments Archie’s £1700 in arrears. He tried everything to come to terms with Whitefriars. They wouldn’t let him move to a smaller place because he’s in arrears (talk about Catch-22!) and blocked him taking in a lodger even though that was endorsed at a court hearing. Eviction would leave Archie homeless. He tried Welfare Rights advice but all they could offer was the phone number for the Salvation Army and the RSPCA for his dog.

We couldn’t let that happen. Our resources are fully committed to the TUSC election campaign, but we got to work on helping Archie. Dave Nellist approached Whitefriars with a detailed proposal but to no avail, and we organised a protest and media coverage over the course of a weekend. We contacted scores of Party members and other volunteers and about 30 people assembled outside Archie’s house in time to confront the Whitefriars representative, bailiffs, locksmith,  and eventually two vanloads of police who took position scattered along the other side of the road.

The protesters included trade unionists, students and local residents. Some neighbours turned out because they knew Archie, others just because they know what’s right. Archie commented ‘I never knew there were so many good people around’. We packed into the front garden and on the pavement, Archie was in his house with the door firmly locked and a burly trade unionist outside! The protest was deliberately kept peaceful and disciplined to avoid the police intervening. But the atmosphere was determined and excited, with placards, the TUSC banner, laughter and chatter. The media turned up and were very helpful, filming, photographing and interviewing throughout.

Sarah Smith, a Coventry Against the Bedroom Tax organiser and TUSC candidate in Woodlands, pointed out that CABT called for Whitefriars and other social landlords to implement a non-eviction policy for bedroom tax arrears two years ago! She said “Labour claim they’re against the bedroom tax – if that’s the case, why haven’t the three Coventry Labour councillors on the board of Whitefriars stood up and opposed Archie’s eviction, and any others?”

Three TUSC candidates (Sarah Smith, Nicky Downes and Lee Cooper) join the protest

Three TUSC candidates (Sarah Smith, Nicky Downes and Lee Cooper) join the protest

The forces on the other side of the road were obviously a lot less cheerful, realising they were not going to get Archie out without a struggle and the world’s worst publicity. The stand-off continued for an hour. During that time Dave Nellist negotiated with Whitefriars, whose bosses were clearly finding themselves in an unfamiliar and awkward position, under the glare of the media spotlight, anxious to find a way out without appearing to back down too much. Finally they called the eviction off and the bailiffs’ van sped away past the protestors, to a chorus of cheers and jeers. We got Archie out, thanked everyone and ended the successful protest, proud of showing what solidarity and people power can do.

What next? Well Whitefriars are suspending their action until June now, while a long-term solution is found. This should have happened before, but Archie would have been out on the street without our action. We expect something acceptable will be found, negotiating with Whitefriars and the Council, especially in the context of the Bedroom Tax’s forthcoming abolition. But if not, we’ll be back. Media coverage since Monday has been very complete, with reports from the Coventry Telegraph, Coventry Observer, BBC Coventry and Warwick radio, Free Radio and BBC Midlands Today. The latter posted a video of the protest on Facebook which has had almost 300,000 views! They commented that this shows the action caught people’s interest and they are keen to do a follow-up to tell viewers the final outcome.

Personally I am proud of how Coventry Socialist Party responded to this sudden threat. It shows how committed and organised we are, even at short notice and when our attention was focussed in another direction. I think the successful outcome came from us being able to organise lively direct action, effective media relations, knowledge of the issue, negotiating skills and an established reputation in the local area. We use those strengths battling away all the time but it’s great when you do win! No-one who participated will forget this for a long time.”

John Boadle, Coventry Against the Bedroom Tax

You can watch some video coverage of the protest here. An interview with Archie and John is below.

Do you want to help stop future evictions or support TUSC candidates? Fill in the form below and get involved!

Tile Hill Library campaigner – “Why I fought to save our libraries”

Tile Hill Library campaigner – “Why I fought to save our libraries”

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition activist Sarah Smith

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition activist Sarah Smith

On Monday 23rd February scores of protestors held a “read-in” at Coventry Council House to protest at the councils proposals to close libraries in the city.

One of them was Sarah Smith from Tile Hill, a Socialist Party member and Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) activist who campaigned against the closure of Tile Hill Library and has now organised a petition against the closure of Jardine Youth Centre and Tile Hill Children’s Centre.

Below are some remarks she wrote about the campaign.

“The Library “read in” protest on Monday involved the telling of stories, so here is a story of a girl, who as a child had nothing. This girl got kicked out of school aged 14 without being able to read or write and was branded a good for nothing.

This girl used to pass a house often and in that house lived Dave Nellist, this girl heard that this MP stood up for people like her but didn’t ever dare to think that one day she would meet him. That girl was me, and now I campaign alongside Dave!

It’s thanks to Libraries and adult education classes that I learned how to read and write and got diagnosed with Dyslexia aged 25. So when I heard of the threatened closures I knew I had to get involved and started the “Save Tile Hill Library” petition, taking it in to every shop on Jardine Crescent. By standing with a stall in Tile Hill, and thanks to the shops support in having the petition, it has gained further support and well over 1000 signatures.

My petition ends Tuesday 3rd March, from there I aim to start a new petition, this time to save the Youth Centre and Sure Start Centre that are in Tile Hill. Finally, I feel very passionately about this campaign and my own theory on the reason why this is happening is the following – we are all entitled to our own opinion, but how do you reference that opinion if there are no books on that Library shelf? I feel that this is an attack on the lower and working class to silence us, but they WON’T silence me!”

Sarah is the prospective TUSC candidate for Woodlands in the May elections. Vote TUSC for fighting local councillors who’ll stand up for you!

Four Coventry Families Threatened With Eviction Every Day

Four Coventry Families Threatened With Eviction Every Day 

Eviction-Notice

Recent figures released by the Ministry of Justice show that in the past 12 months 1,392 families in Coventry were threatened with eviction – more than four every day. This shocking statistic is part of a growing problem in Coventry and across the country, as more and more of us struggle to make ends meet because of cuts and rising living costs.

Many of these families are in rent arrears because of the “bedroom tax”, and as a result are being threatened with eviction. One of the housing associations threatening to evict tenants is Whitefriars, which has 3 Labour councillors on its board – they should be fighting the bedroom tax, not threatening those affected by it!

Coventry’s Labour Council lets landlords exploit tenants with few restrictions, and has taken no action over the growing number of eviction threats being made and the increasing problem of “landlordism” across the city. However, this is perhaps unsurprising as, according to the Coventry Telegraph, 8 Labour councillors are landlords themselves!

Anti-bedroom tax campaigners marching against evictions

Anti-bedroom tax campaigners marching against evictions

Coventry Council should be fighting cuts, not implementing them – and building decent homes for people to live in. There should be compulsory registration of landlords and a cap on rents. Now someone putting that forward would be worth voting for!

Bedroom Tax beaten in Scotland

Bedroom Tax beaten in Scotland

Bedroom Tax protest

Bedroom Tax protest

The Scottish Government has effectively abolished the “bedroom tax” in Scotland by increasing the funding for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) to ensure that tenants will not be affected.

Campaigners from Coventry Against the Bedroom Tax welcomed this decision, with campaigner Robert McArdle saying

“This is a victory for campaigners against the bedroom tax across the UK. The Scottish Government has been forced to support tenants by using Discretionary Housing Payments, exactly what we’ve been asking Coventry Council to do – if they and other councils do the same, we can beat this law.”

Former Labour MP and Socialist councillor Dave Nellist supports the campaign, and restated the campaigns determination to fight the bedroom tax, saying

“This decision by the Scottish Government begs the question, if they can beat the bedroom tax why can’t Coventry Council? We will continue to demand housing associations like Whitefriars refuse to evict tenants affected by the bedroom tax.”

The following is an article from members of the Socialist Party in Scotland, who have been at the forefront of the campaign against this hated tax.

Article from Socialist Party Scotland 

The bedroom tax has been effectively defeated in Scotland. The announcement that the Scottish government intends to end the crushing burden of the hated and reviled bedroom tax is a huge victory.

Mass campaigning, the organisation of hundreds of public meetings the length and breadth of Scotland; thousands marching on demonstrations; lobbies and protests of councils, MSPs and the Scottish government and a refusal to accept any possibility of evictions, proved an unstoppable force.

The defeat of the hated tax will also give a huge boost to campaigners in England and Wales who will step up demands for its abolition and for councils and housing associations to refuse to carry out evictions.

The Scottish government has asked the Con-Dems at Westminster to allow it to provide payments to kill off the tax for 2014/15.

Regardless of whether the Tories allow this, the money can and must be given to social landlords by the Scottish National Party (SNP) government in Scotland to write off all bedroom tax from 1 April 2013 onwards.

The Scottish government had come under enormous pressure from the anti-bedroom tax campaign that, from the start, demanded the SNP use the powers it has to scrap the tax.

The Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation, that united the majority of the local campaigns and in which Socialist Party Scotland members played a leading role, was crucial in this victory.

The campaign in Scotland will remain vigilant and will continue to fight to demand all bedroom tax debts are written off.

And that any and all legal action currently being taken by councils and housing associations, leading to possible eviction, is immediately suspended.

The campaign shows that austerity can be defeated. Imagine what could be achieved if the UK’s seven million-strong trade union movement is mobilised in the form of a 24-hour general strike against all the Con-Dems’ cuts.

…now let’s end all council cuts

The Con-Dem government has slashed spending by over 25% to the ten most deprived areas in England which includes Manchester, Liverpool, and Hackney and Newham in east London.

The government severely cut council tax support to local authorities by £500 million last year. £100 million of this cut was deferred by transitional support arrangements which have now ended.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Trust charity the latest round of government cuts to local authorities will mean 270,000 of the poorest households (who previously could claim a full council tax rebate) seeing their council tax bills rise, on average, by £80 to £176 a year.

Currently, some 600,000 people are in council tax arrears and 500,000 have been issued with court summons for non-payment. 400,000 people have been issued with liability notices and 70,000 have received bailiff letters.

Despite shadow Labour ministers condemning this Con-Dem iniquity, Labour councils have simply passed the government’s spending cuts onto the backs of their poorest residents.

We need an alternative

Labour has failed to protect the most vulnerable, so what is the point of voting in the May elections for a party that has failed to mobilise any effective opposition to this government of brutal austerity?

Any suggestion that an incoming Labour government will reverse these cuts is wishful thinking as Ed Balls has already announced that he would stick with Chancellor Osborne’s budget plans.

All the more reason why working class people should unhesitatingly cast their votes for Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidates (which include Socialist Party members), and also campaign for and stand as TUSC candidates themselves.