Bedroom tax forcing poorest citizens into unmanageable debt DWP not only government department engaged in oppression.
LETTER IN THE GUARDIAN 18/07/2014.
Bedroom tax is forcing poorest citizens into unmanageable debt but DWP is not only government department knowingly engaged in oppression.
It is no surprise to read in Patrick Butler’s report (Bedroom tax has forced tenants to cut back on food, 16 July) that the Department for Work and Pensions now finds that 523,000 tenants have been unable to meet rent arrears due to housing-benefit caps. It was predicted in all the debates about the Welfare Reform Act 2012 in parliament but ignored by the coalition. For example, Lord Best, president of the Local Government Association, said: “A £500 cap will plunge a family with three children living in Hampstead into poverty, with only, in this example, £150 per week left for food, clothing, ever-rising fuel bills and the rest, instead of more than £300 as at present. It is not their fault that rents are so high in much of southern England.”
Additionally, since April 2013, 244 councils have demanded between 8.5% and 20% of council tax from the poorest households. Inability to pay the tax can lead to magistrates triggering the council’s powers to enforce the arrears, adding court costs of up to £125, and bailiffs may be sent in, adding their extortionate fees of up to £420. The DWP is not the only government department knowingly oppressing the poorest citizens of the UK with unmanageable debt. The Treasury, the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Communities and Local Government pile in with equal callousness.
Rev Paul Nicolson, Taxpayers Against Poverty
For the record Tottenham magistrates issued 18,571 liability orders to Haringey Council in 2012/13, and 22,152 in 2013/14, all at £125 a time, after they had imposed 20% of the council tax on benefits in April 2013. Applications are still being processed by the Tottenham magistrates 1000s at a time. Haringey sent 14,569 cases to the bailiffs in 2012/13 and 12,484 in 2013/14. I have asked Haringey to check these bailiff figures as I would have expected them to be the other way round. All this information is in answers to freedom of information questions.
The Zacchaeus 2000 Trust and CPAG launch Sam Ashton’s report on the new poll tax impact on the poorest Londoners.
I am am sure this analysis of the harsh policy of taxing benefits in London will find an echo throughout the UK.
LONDON BISHOPS AND CLERGY URGED SHOUT FROM COMFORTABLE ROOF TOPS FOR JUSTICE FOR TENANTS IMPOVERISHED BY “REFORM”
This letter is published by the Church Times this morning
JUSTICE FOR TENANTS IMPOVERISHED BY WELFARE “REFORM”
Sir, – I live on my pension in Tottenham. Thanks to Queen Anne’s Bounty, a generous laity, and taxpayers through Gift Aid, plus the skilled exploitation of a free market by the capitalist Church Commissioners, I am secure till the end of my life, paying 25 per cent of my gross pension to them for a two-bedroom terraced house.
The bishops and clergy of the diocese of London live in church property rent- and council-tax-free. We are surrounded by insecurity of tenure and the innocent suffering of the tenants of local councils and social housing. The injustice is self-evident.
Typical cases are a single mother with two young children placed in sub-standard private temporary accommodation in Tottenham; the flat is damp. The ceiling falls in on her child’s cot, mercifully not on the child. Her doctor tells the council that the family’s health is at risk from the damp flat. Haringey moves her to a flat in the borough of Enfield; it, too, is damp. She does not know that she has to reapply for her council-tax benefit; so Enfield charges her account with £900 of council tax. She is therefore in arrears; they summon her to the magistrates’ court, adding £70 court costs to the arrears for a liability order, putting her at risk of a very expensive visit from the bailiffs. She brings her child back to school in Tottenham every day.
Another single mother with two children has been in temporary accommodation since 2002. She has been moved eight times by Haringey Council in and out of the borough, twice into bed and breakfast in a hotel. She, too, has struggled to keep her children at the same school as their friends.
We should be protesting from our comfortable rooftops, if not on the streets. But there is a lack of formal public engagement, at every level of our Diocese of London, in the suffering of the poorest London tenants. It is created by the lack of both adequate incomes and affordable housing, as well as the unlimited access of national and international speculators to London property in short supply, which forces up land values and rents, and leaves properties empty.
There are no signs of any national or local policies, from any political party, that will improve the circumstances of the poorest London tenants. Inadequate incomes, unaffordable housing, council tax, and its enforcement are creating malnutrition, hypothermia, and debt-related stress. There is a known connection between mental-health problems and debt.
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus: “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19.39-40).
REV PAUL NICOLSON
Taxpayers Against Poverty
Just Fair – devastating cumulative impact on disabled people of coalition’s welfare “reforms” in human rights context
Dignity and Opportunity for All: Securing the rights of disabled people in the austerity era
Just Fair has set out the devastating cumulative impact on disabled people of the coalition’s so called welfare reforms in the context of human rights. Their analysis and recommendations are also relevant to every one impacted by what is more accurately named welfare abolition since 2010.
TAP includes in our aims and objects Article 25 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
Mat I add; three TAP members have added to my submission to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty.
LAW ALLOWING MAGISTRATES TO RECONSIDER FINES UNPAID DUE TO HARDSHIP IGNORED BY FINES OFFICERS AND BAILIFFS
LAW ALLOWING MAGISTRATES TO RECONSIDER FINES UNPAID DUE TO FINANCIAL HARDSHIP IGNORED BY FINES OFFICERS AND BAILIFFS AT RICHMOND COURT
The fines officers in the Magistrates Courts and the bailiffs enforcing fines seem not to know that there is a new law in the Legal Advice Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 that allows them refer cases back to the magistrates when;
1. a person was not in court when fined and has a disproportionate fine
2. there is a change of circumstances after the Magistrates’ original decision
3. there is financial hardship
I know this is so because I lobbied MPs and Peers for the amendment that introduced the law. The government accepted the amendment.
If you are experiencing those kinds of problems with a fine please quote Baroness Northover’s assurances about the intention of the law to the fines officers and the bailiffs and ask the magistrates for a rehearing of your case. Given the evidence of your financial hardship in a statement of income expenditure and debts and a change of circumstances the magistrates have the power to let you off all or part of the fine.
And please let me know if the fines officer or the bailiffs refuse to return a case to the magistrates under any of the three criteria above.
I am showing a case below her statement where the new law was not recognised by Richmond Court or the bailiffs.
BARONESS NORTHOVER’S ASSURANCES GIVEN TO PARLIAMENT
Hansard 20 Mar 2012 : Column 799 and 800.
Government Amendment 152BYH
All the debate can be found here; http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201212/ldhansrd/text/120320-0002.htm
“This amendment makes a number of changes, mainly to Schedule 5 to the Courts Act 2003. The new clause introduced by the amendment……….. provides magistrates’ court fines officers with the power to withdraw distress warrants they have issued.
In practice when bailiffs come across hardship as defined in the guidance they should not execute the warrant and return it to the court.
The guidance abpout vulnerbale situations is on page 9 of the National Standards for Enforcement Agents which can be found on the MOJ website here — http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/courts/bailiffs-enforcement-officers/national-standards-enforcement-agents.pdf
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, I must say that we would welcome any further information on this matter and on the effectiveness, which she has queried, of the guidance. It is very important that that is monitored.
The Government do not think that it would be appropriate for a bailiff simply to withdraw a warrant in regard to a fine issued by a court. This could undermine the decision made by the court, which is why such a power is not included in the amendment, although I realise that that will disappoint the noble Baroness.
If, however, the fine was imposed because the full facts were not made clear to the court, or they had changed, the provision in the Bill could apply.
In the case of changed circumstances since the fine was imposed, the debtor can contact the court at any time to speak to a fines officer to have the matter reviewed. (By the magistrates – my addition PN)
The Government would encourage any debtor to contact the fines officer or court about a change of circumstance, which is clearly a better approach than waiting until a bailiff seeks to execute a warrant, but it is important that we separate the two parts in that respect ……………….. the Government think it is important that bailiffs are dealt with via effective guidance, national standards and contractual obligations”
THIS IS A CASE WHERE THE BAILIFFS AND THE FINES OFFICER AND THE REST OF THE SYSTEM GOT IT WRONG – WE ARE APPEALING. .
Joe (I have changed the name) was fined £343 and £226.67, including court costs, by Richmond Magistrates and had paid off £124 for one fine and £120 for the other by 12 December 2013 before he lost his job.
He missed payments when he became unemployed on £72.40 JSA .
He offered to pay a reduced amount but the fines officer insisted on the total amount and sent in the bailiffs.
Joe has approached everyone involved, the bailiffs, the magistrates, the Civil Enforcement Association, the London Collection and Compliance Court.
None of them have told him, and he did not know, that the law in the Legal Advice Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 gives him access to the magistrates who can consider remission of all or part of the unpaid fine and the withdrawal of the warrant in the light of his change of circumstances and in cases of hardship.
They have also failed to tell him about the page 9 of the National Standards for Enforcement Agents which includes a process for returning cases in vulnerable situations to creditors, court and local authorities on page 9.
The bailiffs have added £85 initial fee, and £210 more for a visit and have sent him a pre-removal notice, so they are about to add a further £110 to his already unpayable Bill. They are private companies with an incentive to push the fees to the limit.
The actual fees agreed by the Ministry of Justice are £75 initial fee. £235 single fee for any number of visits and £110 for removal of good to sell to pay the fine, the courts costs and the bailiffs fees – see https://www.gov.uk/your-rights-bailiffs/what-you-can-do-when-a-bailiff-visits . This MOJ webpage has no mention of the National Standards for Enforcement Agents or the provisions covering hardship covered by the amendment.
One fine was because he did not know he needed a parking disc outside his home. Joe owned the car for two days. The other was for travelling beyond the limits set by his oyster card. He had offered to pay the difference.