The proposal is being put to a full meeting of the council by Liberal Democrat councillors, who say the current coalition government policy of reducing benefit for under-occupying tenants is “ineffective, unfair and penalises the most vulnerable”.
According to council figures, at the end of June 2,354 of the 6,407 council tenants who have an “under-occupation charge” applied to their housing benefit were in arrears.
“Council notes the efforts of other councils to offer greater certainty to affected tenants by guaranteeing they won’t be evicted for arrears accrued as a result of under-occupying their home,” the Lib-Dem motion being debated on Wednesday says.
“Council resolves to adopt a non-eviction policy for tenants in Leeds who have had their benefits cuts due to under-occupation …”.
There are caveats, though. To qualify, tenants will have to prove they have: “applied for rehousing; applied for a discretionary housing payment; maintained their tenancy effectively in terms of overall property condition and standards of behaviour; not refused reasonable offers to downsize”.
Local groups campaigning against the coalition government’s welfare reforms – like Hands Off Our Homes – have been calling for a no-eviction policy to be introduced in Leeds.
The council’s position so far has been that it can’t write off any arrears arising as a result of the “bedroom tax”, but it will “do everything reasonably possible to support and advise tenants who find themselves in arrears because of the welfare changes”.
It has so far awarded a total of £465,098 in “discretionary housing payments (DHP)” to 813 of the 1,714 households who have applied to the council’s hardship fund for help.
As far as eviction is concerned, an updated policy approved by council leaders in April didn’t broach a blanket no-eviction policy, but came up with new guidelines on “when it would not be appropriate to serve (what is officially called) a Notice of Intent to Seek Possession”.
Council housing chief Peter Gruen was quoted recently as saying that “a no-eviction policy is very difficult to maintain”.
Worth noting that one council that has adopted a no-eviction policy, Bristol, could now be having second thoughts after a council working party found the policy was “not sustainable and should be ended as soon as possible”.
Will Labour party councillors – the majority in the Leeds council chamber – accept the Lib-Dem proposal? They’re making up their collective mind today.
As recently as last month Hands Off Our Homes didn’t hold out much hope of a no-eviction policy happening in Leeds.
Here’s what one Labour councillor, prospective parliamentary candidate for Leeds North West Alex Sobel, was saying last night:
You can watch the debate live on the internet on Wednesday afternoon by clicking here.