Bournemouth Council give no assurances not to evict for Bedroom Tax rent arrears

Shown below is a public question submitted to Bournemouth Borough Council full council meeting on 18th June and the council’s response. BPACC are currently considering the council’s response and will be responding soon.

Public Question from Mike Cracknell

“The Government has introduced the Welfare Reform Bill which limits the total amount of Welfare benefits with an increase capped at 1%. This coincides with the introduction of the Social Housing Size Restriction policy equating to a reduction of 14% for one spare bedroom and 25% for two spare rooms which is monetary terms equates to circa £14/15 per vacant bedroom in Housing Benefit for tenants occupying social housing. Will the Council give an assurance that if the rent debt is accrued because of these factors there will be no eviction of tenants?”

Reply from the Leader of the Council, Cllr John Beesley

Tenants who are affected by the Social Housing Size Restriction policy (also referred to as the “Spare Room Subsidy”) will be of working age, receiving Housing Benefit and here in Bournemouth will be either local authority tenants or housing association tenants.

There are 577 Housing Benefit recipients affected in Bournemouth, of whom 328 are Local Authority tenants and 249 are in Housing Association properties.

All those who are affected and are Local Authorities tenants were written to twice by the Housing Benefits team with an explanation of how their Housing Benefit could change. The Council’s Housing Management team has been most proactive in contacting these tenants in order to discuss their options. They have been provided with information and advice on downsizing, applying for Discretionary Housing Payment, maximising income, returning to work and taking in lodgers. The Housing Management team is working closely with the Allocations team to ensure that all tenants wishing to downsize are placed on the ‘gold band’, significantly increasing their chances of winning a bid on a suitable property. tenants who wish to downsize will also be encouraged to arrange a mutual exchange of tenancies with other social housing tenants.

The Council is currently reviewing the incentives that it pays to tenants who wish to downsize to smaller properties in order to provide more assistance with the costs associated with moving, such as replacement of carpets, removals and decorations. The Council is also considering the level of practical assistance that it can provide, such as help with the connection and disconnection of white goods.

One of the Council’s 8 Housing Strategy priorities for Bournemouth is to ensure that we are making the best use of all our existing housing. The Social Housing Size Restriction policy forms part of this strategic priority by freeing up much needed family accommodation to help meet the housing needs of many who are on the Council’s waiting list. In April this year there were 3,177 households on the waiting list. 933 of these needed 2 bedroom accommodation and there were a further 645 who needed 3 bedrooms or more. We have reduced the waiting list from the 9,425 who were on it a year earlier through a much stricter allocations policy and are doing all we can to increase the number of new properties available to those most in need. It seems only fair therefore that we use our existing and future housing stock to best suit the needs of tenants, through downsizing where appropriate, in order to free up larger homes for those who need them and who are included on the revised waiting list, in the main through having a Bournemouth connection.

The Council’s policy in dealing with tenants who fail to pay their rent is available on the website. The policy is flexible enough to ensure that each case is dealt with on its own merits by specialist and experienced staff. They will become involved in cases of non-payment quickly in order to provide assistance and advice and have been successful in helping tenants who experience problems in paying their rent. However, if a satisfactory arrangement to manage the rent account cannot be agreed, the Council would take action to recover the property, nut only ever as a last resort.

In the Budget statement, the council recognised that Welfare Reform would be likely to cause hardship for some. Although there is no direct requirement by the government for us to do so, in Bournemouth we made provision in the Budget of £1.0 million for this year (2013/14) to establish a Local Welfare Assistance Fund. Bournemouth residents can apply can apply for emergency one-off payments through this fund to help with their living expenses where they are struggling financially. This fund is therefore very much targeted to those who are are most in need of support. In addition, the Council has also created a new earmarked reserve of just over £500,000 to further address the impact of the changeover to Universal Credit as the next stage of the governments Welfare Reform programme. This will provide an additional safety net for the most vulnerable local people here in Bournemouth. It should be stressed that neither of these additional funding streams are required by the government to be provided by the Council, but were nevertheless contained in our Budget Statement in February. They were introduced because we wanted to protect the most vulnerable local people and because it was simply the right thing to do.

Poole Council give no assurances not to evict for Bedroom Tax rent arrears

Shown below is a public question submitted to Borough of Poole full council meeting on 18th June and the council’s response. BPACC are currently considering the council’s response and will be responding soon.

Public Question from Kevin Smith

“The Government has introduced the Welfare Reform Bill which limits the total amount of Welfare benefits with an increase capped at 1%.  This coincides with the introduction of the Social Housing Size Restriction policy equating to a reduction of 14% for one spare room and 25% for two spare rooms which in monetary terms equates to circa £14/£15 per vacant bedroom in Housing benefit for tenants occupying social housing. Will the Council give an assurance that if rent debt is accrued because of these factors there will be no eviction of tenants?”

Borough of Poole Response from, Leader of the Council, Cllr Ms Atkinson

Response in respect of properties where the Council is the Landlord

The Council and it’s partner Poole Housing Partnership (PHP) are working hard to address the issues raised by the governments welfare reform programme. Planning for these changes has taken place over a long period and a package of assistance is now offered to residents effected by these changes. Everyone in a PHP property who has lost benefit because of the under occupation penalty and the benefit cap regulations has been contacted by PHP and offered assistance. Advice has been given about how tenants can move to more appropriate sized accommodation either by way of a transfer or by exchanging their home with another social housing tenant. We have also changed our transfer incentive scheme to give a greater emphasis on people effected by welfare benefit changes. In addition we offer tenants advice about how to maximise their income by either accessing the jobs market or ensuring that they are receiving all the benefit to which they are entitled.

We are committed to working with residents affected by these changes to ensure that they retain access to appropriate secure accommodation. We are not able to give an assurance that no one will be evicted because of arrears that have arisen as a result of welfare benefit reform, each case will be considered on it’s merits.  However we can confirm that tenants will be offered every possible assistance to deal with such problems and that eviction will always be the very last resort.

Response in respect of properties where the Council is not the Landlord

Again we are not able to give an assurance that no one will be evicted because of arrears that have arisen as a result of welfare benefit reform as the decision will be made by the respective private sector landlords. However the Council has a Discretionary Housing Payment fund, that is limited by Government grant, which it is using to help mitigate the impact of several welfare reforms taking place in 2013. Any claimant on housing benefit who is unable to meet the reduction in award can make a claim for additional financial assistance from this fund.

The Government grant is not enough to meet every claimant’s housing benefit shortfall and to prioritise awards from this fund payments are made in accordance with the Council’s Discretionary Housing Payment policy. The Council’s policy is designed to support the implementation of the Government’s welfare reforms whilst making sure we have a process in place to protect our most vulnerable residents, sustain tenancies where we can and prevent homelessness.

Where an application is made and it is established that the claimant cannot afford the housing benefit shortfall awards may be made to financially support claimants whilst they take action to change their circumstances so they can afford their accommodation in the longer term. Each application is considered on a case by case basis, and the length of award will vary. The policy expects claimants who make applications for the additional financial support to engage with relevant support services, such as work programmes, budgeting and debt advice agencies, health programmes etc. and, where appropriate, take steps to be able to afford their accommodation in the future.

The Great Train Robbery

Rail privatisation has failed to deliver for rail users and taxpayers; has brought in little private sector investment and private train companies are heavily dependent upon the public purse to enable them to run services, according to a new TUC- commissioned report, The Great Train Robbery – written by the Centre for Research on Social-Cultural Change (CRESC) at the University of Manchester.

And when train companies do make a profit, barely any of it is re-invested in the railways, says the study. It reveals that those firms receiving the largest state subsidies spend, on average, over 90 per cent of their profits on shareholder dividends.

This contrasts sharply with the East Coast Mainline, which is currently state run and which re-invests all of its profits into improving the service.

great train robbery network rail private investment

The Great Train Robbery looks at many of the key objectives behind the decision of John Major’s government to privatise the railways in 1994. The report questions whether any of these have been achieved:

  • Cost effectiveness – train operating companies are entirely reliant upon public subsidies to run services. The top five recipients alone received almost £3bn in taxpayer support between 2007 and 2011. This allowed them to make operating profits of £504m – over 90 per cent (£466m) of which was paid to shareholders.
  • Extra investment – the report shows how the average age of trains has risen since rail privatisation, from 16 years in 1996 to 18 years old today. Just £1.9bn was spent on rolling stock between 2008 and 2012, compared to £3.2bn between 1989 and 1993 (the four years before privatisation.)
  • Over 90 per cent of new investment in recent years has been financed by Network Rail (the taxpayer funded body responsible for rail infrastructure), and comes mainly from taxpayer funding or government-underwritten borrowing, says the report.
  • Significant upgrades to infrastructure, such as the development of the West Coast Mainline, have been paid for by Network Rail.
  • Passenger comfort – the report says while there has been a 60 per cent increase in passengers since 1994/95, there has only been a 3 per cent increase in new carriages, resulting in serious overcrowding on many routes.
  • Innovation – even where there has been private sector investment in new technology, such as Virgin’s tilting trains, it has been underwritten by the state through subsidies to train operating companies and guarantees to rolling stock leasing companies.
  • Added value – The Great Train Robbery shows how train operating companies paid Network Rail just £1.59bn in track access charges in 2012, compared to £3.18bn paid to its predecessor Railtrack in 1994. This represents an ‘indirect subsidy’ from taxpayers as train companies are getting track access on the cheap. It also means that the full extent of taxpayer subsidy is far greater than is often reported.
  • Investment in infrastructure has largely been funded through borrowing by Network Rail which now has debts of over £30bn, and is spending more on repaying this debt than on railway maintenance, says the report.
  • Competitive fares – the UK has the most expensive rail fares in Europe. Long distance, day return and season tickets are all around twice the price of similar tickets in France, Germany, Italy and Spain, which have publicly-run rail systems. Average train fares in the UK increased at three times the rate of average wages between 2008 and 2012.
  • More passengers – the report dismisses claims that privatisation has helped increase the number of people travelling on the railways.It says that passenger growth has mostly been down to rising GDP and changes in employment patterns rather than because of privatisation.

Great train robbery net profits dividends

Commenting on the report, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘This study explodes the myth that rail firms are bringing added value to our railways. In reality they rely upon taxpayers to turn a profit, virtually all of which ends up in shareholders’ pockets, rather than being used to improve services.

‘Rail privatisation has not brought the improvements its cheerleaders promised – the average age of trains has increased and most new investment is funded by the state.

‘The claim that private train operators are responsible for more people using the railways must also be taken with a huge pinch of salt. Passenger growth has mirrored changes in the wider economy and is not the result of creative marketing drives by companies.

‘The government must accept that the current model is broken. Its determination to impose franchising across the network – even on the East Coast Mainline which is performing well as a nationalised service – shows ministers are ignoring the evidence of 20 years of failure.’

CRESC Director Professor Karel Williams said: ‘The privately owned train operating companies have hijacked the government’s rail reform agenda which is all about ‘getting franchising back on track’.

‘Our research shows how the franchising system allows them to distribute profits at low cost from public subsidy.

‘It would make sense to abolish the train operating companies and it would cost the taxpayer nothing if it were done as the franchises expired.

”Train and track operation could then be integrated under a new publicly-owned National Rail, operating within defined budgets over sustained funding periods.’

The Great Train Robbery says that:

  • Train operating companies should be abolished as a crucial first step. This could be achieved within the next ten years as companies have relatively short leases with contract termination points and there is no requirement for shareholder compensation when the franchises expire.
  • Train and rail infrastructure should be organised by a new not for profit company, National Rail, built around the core of Network Rail.
  • Just as with Crossrail in London, the government should introduce a business levy to raise extra funds for the railways. The report estimates this could generate £21bn a year.

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The People’s Assembly: Draft statement and proposed action plan

The declaration below represents the beginning of a democratic process leading towards a second People’s Assembly in early 2014. This declaration represents the views of all those who initially called for the People’s Assembly. We hope it will be endorsed by the People’s Assembly on 22nd June. It will then be open to the local People’s Assembly’s, union bodies and campaign groups who support the People’s Assembly to suggest amendments, additions, or deletions. These will then all be discussed and decided upon at the recall People’s Assembly in 2014.

The plans for action are simply the most obvious rallying points for a national anti-cuts movement for the remainder of 2013. They are not intended to supersede local or sectional action by existing campaigns or trade unions. They are intended to be focus national, collective action by the whole anti-austerity movement.

The People’s Assembly, meeting in Westminster Central Hall, declares:

We face a choice that will shape our society for decades to come. It is a choice faced by ordinary people in every part of the globe.

We can defend education, health and welfare provision funded from general taxation and available to all, or we can surrender the gains that have improved the lives of millions of people for over more than 50 years.

We do not accept that government’s austerity programme is necessary. The banks and the major corporations should be taxed at a rate which can provide the necessary resources. Austerity does not work: it is a failure in its own terms resulting in neither deficit reduction nor growth. It is not just: the government takes money from the pockets of those who did not cause the crisis and rewards those who did. It is immoral: our children face a bleaker future if our services and living standards are devastated. It is undemocratic: at the last election a majority voted against the return of a Tory government. The Con-Dem coalition has delivered us into the grip of the Tories’ whose political project is the destruction of a universal welfare state.

We therefore choose to resist. We refuse to be divided against ourselves by stories of those on ‘golden pensions’, or of ‘scroungers’, or the ‘undeserving poor’. We do not blame our neighbours, whatever race or religion they maybe. We are not joining the race to the bottom. We stand with the movement of resistance across Europe.

We are clear in our minds that our stand will require us to defend the people’s right to protest, and so we support the right of unions and campaigns to organise and take such action as their members democratically decide is necessary.

We stand with all those who have made the case against the government so far: in the student movement, in the unions, in the many campaigns to defend services, the NHS, and in the Coalition of Resistance, the People’s Charter, UK Uncut, the environmental movement and the Occupy movement.

We do not seek to replace any organisations fighting cuts. All are necessary. But we do believe that a single united national movement is required to challenge more effectively a nationally led government austerity programme.

We have a plain and simple goal: to make government abandon its austerity programme. If it will not it must be replaced with one that will.

We will concentrate on action not words. We aim to provide the maximum solidarity for unions and other organisations and others taking action. We support every and all effective forms action and aim to build a united national movement of resistance.

Our case is clear. The government’s austerity programme does not work; it is unjust, immoral and undemocratic. Alternatives exist. Debts can be dropped. Privatisation can be reversed and common ownership embraced. A living wage can begin to combat poverty. Strong trade unions can help redistribute profit. The vast wealth held by corporations and the trillions held by the super rich in tax havens can be tapped. Green technology, alternatives to the arms industries, a rebuilt infrastructure including growth in manufacturing are all desperately needed. We are fighting for an alternative future for this generation and for those that come after us.

Proposed actions:

  • The People’s Assembly will support every genuine movement and action taken against any and all of the cuts. We support all current industrial actions by the unions. We encourage and will help to organise the maximum solidarity action with the PCS and teaching union members taking strike action the week after the People’s Assembly, as well as with other action by unions planned for the autumn.
  • Peoples Assemblies against the cuts should be organised in towns and cities across our nations, bringing all those fighting the cuts together into a broad democratic alliance on a local basis.
  • The national and the local Assemblies, in partnership with Trades Unions, Trades Councils, campaigning and community groups, can unite our movement and strengthen our campaigns. Local Assemblies will help us to organise a recalled National Assembly to review our work in the early spring of 2014.
  • We will work together with leading experts and campaigners both here and abroad, and friendly think tanks, to develop rapidly key policies and an alternative programme for a new anti-austerity government. We will continue to welcome support from all who fight the cuts.
  • We will call a national day of civil disobedience and direct action against austerity.
  • We will call a day of co-ordinated local demonstrations in the early autumn.
  • We will work with the trade unions and others to call a national demonstration in November.

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Bournemouth Council supporting the ‘sell off’ of public services

At a time when local authorities’ budgets are being savagely cut by central govt leading to the loss of public sector jobs and services; it seems reasonable to expect that our local councils would be doing everything in their power to use all their available resources to support and retain public services. However that does not seem to be the case with Bournemouth Borough Council.

An event is being advertised on the website of Business Events in Dorset under the heading “Winning Public Sector Business – an introduction to bid writing/tendering”. It has the full backing of the Bournemouth Borough Council and similar events have been held for several years which were presumably funded by them.

The half day free workshop session is aimed at small & medium sized enterprises “looking for any Public Sector Contract” and encourages them to “book NOW on a ‘Winning public sector business’ workshop so you can avoid the typical mistakes and pick up tips and best practice when completing a PQQ, ITT or tender document” to give them the best chance of winning. The workshop is described as a “mixture of presentation, case study, group work and most importantly for you working on a tender that you could bid for.”

Even if we put aside the fact it is highly questionable whether the council should be tendering out our public services to the highest bidder; what mandate do they have to use local taxpayer’s money to encourage and support businesses in that very act?

Locally Bournemouth Council is shedding hundreds of jobs through ‘efficiency savings’ – yes that means cuts – and many employees who were employed by the council are being transferred to private sector employers. This very often leads to the employees having to take a cut in pay, changes to shift allowances and lose out on annual leave and sick pay entitlement.

It could be said that the jury is out whether these private sector companies will provide the same level of service to the public. However, most will already have heard stories in the media where it is simply not the case and when a service is moved from the non-profit public sector to a profit making private company, it would seem blindingly obvious that the amount of money made available for the quality of the service offered will severely diminish.

It is also unclear whether services that were constantly audited within the public sector have these rigid checks maintained within the private sector; and it is also unclear who monitors the quality of services being offered. Private companies are also not liable to release information under Freedom of Information requests even though they are providing a public service. Added to this, there is the question of accountability whereby several changes of service providers may lead to any faults / complaints being passed between them whilst they argue who is liable to correct the situation.

Serious questions need to be asked of Bournemouth Borough Council why they make such radical decisions to not only sell off our public’s services but also pay for the training of private companies to assist them in ‘winning’ the contracts.<

The list of contact details for Bournemouth Councillors can be found by clicking here

Should Bournemouth Borough Council release more of its mountain of financial reserves?

Bournemouth Borough Council has announced that it will release £23M of its financial reserves to “safeguard services and invest in a variety of schemes” and also “lower council tax by 0.7 per cent to ensure residents will not have to pay any extra this year”. Only time will tell whether the funds being released will actually help the people who are directly suffering under the savage austerity measures being implemented by the government.

Of course any help that the council can offer to relieve the pressure being felt by hard pressed residents within our area is welcome. However, BPACC calls on the council to look at using the abundance of their reserves still left – around £70M – to plug the hole in government funding for charities and support groups, art and community services, road maintenance, subsidised bus routes and services, renovation of school buildings, legal aid, short break or respite care services, disability services such as mobility shops, stopping increases to car parking charges, social care / community transport etc etc etc….

The Council also needs to answer the question why council tax reserves were not made available for the many cuts we have already seen such as the closures of Darracott Day, Malvern, Horizons day care centres or staff cuts at Boscombe day care centre and more recently the proposed closure of Dorset Enterprise.

And lest we forget the cuts / freezes to the wages of many workers employed directly by the council. It can reasonably be argued that as Bournemouth Borough Council is a major employer in the town, cutting or freezing wages or giving below inflation pay increases will have a direct negative effect on the local economy simply because people will be forced to spend less of their earnings within the local community. On top of this, the council has chosen to make hundreds of their employees redundant which has the same effect to the local economy and additionally, due to the unemployment crisis, many of these people will now be in receipt of state benefits and of course no longer paying taxes. A double whammy false economy which although may have a short term positive effect on the council budget sheets, will have long term negative effects upon the local and national economy.

In April 2013, due to the Welfare Reform Act, people will see radical changes to some state benefits:

Bedroom Tax – anyone of working age in receipt of Housing Benefit (HB) who live in Council housing with “spare” bedrooms, will not receive HB for these rooms. This will mean these people will see their HB reduced as shown below and they will be expected to cover the shortfall in their rent out of their JSA – Jobseekers Allowance, ESA – Employment Support Allowance, Working Tax Credits or Child Tax Credits:

  • 14% reduction in Housing Benefit for under-occupancy by one bedroom
  • 25% reduction in Housing benefit for under-occupancy by two bedrooms or more

Council Tax Benefit (CTB) – the government has cut the funding to Local Authorities for the provision of CTB by 10%. It has been left entirely up to local Councils how they cover this budget cut. Bournemouth Council has decided that people of working age, except those on DLA – Disability Living Allowance and some Carers, who receive CTB will pay up 20% of their total bill.

Crisis / Social Fund Loans and Community Care Grants – the govt has localised these loans / grants and the decision making process of delivering them to some of the most vulnerable people in our community is being handed over to the Council. The funding Local Authorities receive from government will not be ring-fenced, nor will there be a ‘statutory duty’ on local authorities to provide a minimum level of service, nor will there be any ‘sanctions’ if a local authority uses the money to plough into other services. Due to cuts they have already faced, Council staff are already under severe workload pressure and it is highly debatable whether more staff will be employed, so it is very likely that this service will be outsourced. Most people are now becoming aware of the problems this can cause with likes of Mouchel, A4E, G4S, ATOS, Working Links who are happy to take taxpayers money but either unwilling or unable to provide sufficient quality of service or value for money. And as with many other things that are happening, if this service is outsourced, it can be legitimately viewed as back-door privatisation of Jobcentres.

Many local public services have already seen their funding from the Council cut and it will be difficult to gauge the effects of these cuts for several years. In most cases, thorough impact assessments have not taken place. As with most policies of this government a hurried swinging axe has fallen down without taking into account the long term hardship and misery it will cause members of our community and the effects it will have on the local / national economy. The govt has set the precedent and unfortunately most Councils are following suit in the way the cuts are being delivered. In most cases the cuts will not ‘help the economy’, in fact they will have the opposite effect and stifle growth causing the country’s economy to continue to flat-line and even that might be considered optimistic. Triple dip recession just around the corner?

It could be argued that the Council are caught between a rock and a hard place, as on the one hand they are having their funding cut by central government who conveniently devolve responsible to local authorities as to how the cuts are implemented and have also removed most of the ring-fencing of budgets which gives local authorities free reign regarding services they choose to cut. On the other hand, of course, the Council will not be able to please all the people all the time. However the question begs, how vociferously are our Councils relaying their frustration and anger about the savage nature of these cuts back to central govt or is it more the case that once you scratch the surface of any rhetoric of objection they are happy to go along with the tory ideology of systematically destroying the safety /support network of many within our community.

Over the last couple of years, prior to the Council announcing which services will be facing the axe, residents have been asked ‘which services would you like to see cut’. However at a time when they were sitting on around £100M of local taxpayers money (now £70M), perhaps the question the Council should have, and should now be asking, is ‘which services that have already faced budgets cut would you like to see have their funding re-instated’.

If you live within Bournemouth Borough and would like to raise any of these issues with your local Councillors, all wards and contact details are shown here. Remember Councillors are elected by you, to serve you; not to blindly follow the decisions or ideology of whichever politically party they have chosen to align themselves with.

Specific information about budgets (and funding cuts) allocated to individual organisations is difficult to come by; even via FOIs (Freedom of Information requests). If you are aware of charities or support groups whose budgets have been cut over the last 3 years, please email us at info@bpacc.co.uk and we will look into the matter further. All information received will be treated in the strictest confidence.

Sources for this post:
Bournemouth freezing council tax by releasing £23m of reserves – Bournemouth Echo
Local Cuts and Closures – BPACC
New council tax reduction scheme aims to protect Bournemouth’s most needy – Bournemouth Echo
Social Housing Size Restriction – Bournemouth Council
Local Council Tax Support Scheme FAQ – Bournemouth Council
Is this the end of the Social Fund in local communities? – Community Links

Bournemouth Council to increase social care charges

Plans to increase how much people pay per week for council funded adult social care have been approved at a Cabinet Meeting of Bournemouth Borough Council on 17th October. From April next year, 234 people will have to pay more for non-residential services such as day centre visits, transport and home visits and in some cases individuals will be paying over £200 each week. The breakdown of the 234 people affected is as follows:

  • 86 people will pay up to £30 per week more
  • 57 people will pay between £20-£49 per week more
  • 43 people will pay between £50-£99 per week more
  • 43 people will pay between £100-£199 per week more
  • Five people will pay more than £200 per week more

For more information why social care charges should be opposed, please visit our page “Time to end the older and disabled person’s poll tax: Stop charging for care services” and sign the e-petition – Service charges for social care to be abolished in England and Wales

Source: Bournemouth Echo: Hundreds in Bournemouth will lose out in adult social care benefits shake up