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It seems the ruling group of Powys County Council, here in Mid Wales, has challenged the law in its attempts to block a ‘no-eviction’ motion on the Bedroom Tax.
The Labour motion was put forward at a meeting of the full council on October 24. It called on councillors to note the comments of Raquel Rolnik, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Housing, who said that the Bedroom Tax policy could constitute a violation of the human right to adequate housing, and asked them to pledge that Powys will not evict tenants who fail to pay their rent because of it.
Councillors who are also private landlords were forbidden from speaking or voting on the motion. They have a financial (or pecuniary) interest in the matter as they stand to benefit if social housing tenants are forced to seek accommodation with them as a result of the policy. This meant around 30 councillors had to leave the chamber.
It seems that members of the ruling Shires Independent Group, realising that there was a real possibility that the motion would be carried, then called for any members who are themselves social housing tenants – or have friends or family who are social housing tenants – should also be barred from taking part.
This made it impossible to continue the debate. The matter has been passed to the council’s Standards Committee, whose members have been asked to judge whether landlord councillors should receive special dispensation in order to debate the motion.
It seems that this decision is wrong in law.
According to Essential Local Government, a journalistic textbook from the Vox Political vaults, “In some cases, the Secretary of State for the Environment or Secretary of State for Wales can issue either a general or particular dispensation entitling members with declared interests to take part in debates and to vote. An example of this is that councillors who are council tenants may take part in debates on, and vote on, matters relating to council housing.”
That book was published in 1993 but there is no reason to expect such a general dispensation to have been removed and therefore it seems that any call for councillors who are tenants – or who know tenants – not to be able to take part in a debate can have no basis in law.
The motion should have been debated by councillor-tenants and members with no interest, and a decision made on the day, nearly a month ago. The delay means social housing tenants in Powys (and VP knows of 686 affected households in the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency alone) may have been subjected to an unnecessary month of evictions or threats of eviction.
It has been suggested that the decision to block the motion may have been prompted by figures from the House of Commons library which suggest that as a result of the Bedroom Tax the amount of Housing Benefit paid to private landlords (remember, HB is a landlord subsidy and does not enrich tenants at all) will rise from £7.9 billion to £9.4 billion.
If the Standards Committee decides to allow them to debate the motion, it is likely that the decision will therefore be corrupt.
The matter went unreported by the local press because none of the newspapers had sent any reporters to cover the meeting.
How many other councils, across the UK, have voted on ‘no evictions’ motions under a false understanding of who can take part? VP knows that Bristol City Council has debated the matter with a controversial result.
Meanwhile, for tenants up and down the country, the agony goes on.