A group of angry protesters from “Burnley Against the Bedroom Tax” lobbied councillors on their way into the full council meeting on Wednesday evening.
Our fury was aroused by letters sent to hundreds of Calico tenants in arrears because of what Ed Milliband has called a “wrong and iniquitous” tax.
Calico has, more than once, though obviously not in writing, assured the campaign there will be no more evictions due to the bedroom tax. How dare they then use the threat of eviction to intimidate people who don’t have the money to pay as the minimum deemed possible for them to live on has been reduced? It increases the stress for those people to intolerable levels.
Councillors assured us it was not as bad as it seemed as there are “discretionary funds” set aside to cover Calico’s shortfall. Why doesn’t the council come clean about how much there is and just pass it over to Calico to plug the gap, rather than using access to it as a political football? And why doesn’t Calico direct tenants towards it, rather than inviting scared, demoralised, struggling people to undertake payment plans, which are set higher than the bedroom tax itself?
Representative of “Burnley Against the Bedroom Tax”
Helen Roberts, Calico’s Financial Inclusion Manager replies:
“We have not evicted anybody as a result of the bedroom tax, nor have we begun eviction proceedings against anyone who has gone into arrears solely as a result of the bedroom tax. We do, however, have a legal responsibility to remind tenants that falling into rent arrears does put their home at risk.
“That’s why, over the past 18 months, we’ve had a dedicated Money Wise team to help people cope with the ongoing challenge of Welfare Reform, and have been in touch with thousands of people to offer support and advice, or help move into a more suitable home.
“We have also referred hundreds of tenants to the Discretionary Housing Fund, however it is important to remember this is only a temporary stop-gap, and would not permanently cover the shortfall for everybody affected in the Borough. Our Money Wise Team can be contacted on Freephone 0800 169 2407.”
A Burnley Council spokesman replies:
“The Government awarded the council £202,307 in 2013/14 to fund discretionary housing payments to vulnerable people who face genuine difficulties. We are working closely with Calico. We have written to all its tenants that were in receipt of housing benefit (they have to be in receipt of benefit to make a claim to the fund), that hadn’t already applied for a discretionary hardship payment, inviting them to make a claim to highlight the availability of the fund and how to apply.
“This is a limited pot of money but we are determined to make sure discretionary housing payments go to those most in need. To date we have paid out half the money available and we will continue to work with the most needy in our communities to make sure the whole fund is effectively distributed.
“It’s national policy that the funds are distributed through local authorities.”