The ‘Bedroom Tax’, council tax reductions and can local government oppose the ‘Cuts’?

Bedroom Tax

The ‘Bedroom Tax’ is a cut in Housing Benefit if you are deemed to have a ‘spare’ room. HB is cut by 14% for one room and 25% for two. This has had a big effect on those with health issues, family and those with family away at university. The rules for children sharing rooms are complicated. The government has backtracked on rooms for ‘carers’ and those in the armed forces. A full update of who is affected is here (1). One foster company even delivered leaflets suggesting fostering as a means of avoiding the bedroom tax (2). The Bedroom tax does not affect those on state pension.

Nationally around 660,000 households are affected, of which approximately 2/3 are disabled (3). Ten disabled groups recently challenged the Bedroom Tax at the High Court and lost their case with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) (4). The DWP argued that a small hardship fund called “Discretionary Housing Fund” (DHF) was enough. DHF payments have soared and in Hull they are 300% higher than last year (5). The DHF fund is a fixed sum and when it’s gone, it’s gone.

In Leeds around 6,000 council-owned properties and a further 1,500 housing association properties are affected by the bedroom tax. 33,000 households are affected by reduction in council tax support.

Can people downsize?

In May 2013 there were 90,000 households in the UK looking for 1 bedroom rooms(6) and over 95% of the 666,000 households affected (7) cannot find suitably sized social housing. There are 850,000 council properties in Leeds, and as of mid-July there were 27,000 applicants waiting for council housing* (8). More than 8,000 households are seeking a different sized property (9). For those hoping to downsize there are very few 1 bed properties. There are currently around 40 one bedroom properties available in the Leeds Council authority. Each with 5-165 bids on each property (10). And some of these 1 beds are destined to be demolished in the near future. To make matters worse, several Private Finance Initiative (PFI) social housing schemes have been delayed due to the private company running out of money!

In Leeds around 850 properties were redesignated as “non specific rooms” due to their box like size (6). But the council will end up receiving less money as the government gives less money for properties with fewer rooms. And the government has now sent “threatening” letters to each local authority about trying to get around the ‘bedroom tax’ (11). There also was a rumour that reclassification has been delayed for certain properties in Leeds. In Brighton the Green run council managed to create a hardship fund for those who were in debt due to the bedroom tax (12). A similar proposal by the Greens in Liverpool was rejected by the council (13).

Occasionally tenants are looking for larger properties and this involves negotiation between the council and existing tenants. But the incentive for moving house has been reduced to £200, could you move house for £200?

*note this will include groups/families, so vastly more than 27000 people are waiting

Council Tax

In June several thousand court summons for non-payment of council tax were sent out (9). Leeds Hands off Our Homes believes 17% who have lost full council tax benefit have not paid (9). Every year a number of people will not pay but we suspect a high proportion will be due to Council and Bedroom Tax changes. An applicant felt the summons to the Magistrates court was nothing more than council officer rubber stamping a decision. The court can take the outstanding amount from ‘benefits’ before they are received by the tenant.

A few authorities (not Leeds) have been lumped with ‘Universal Credit’ which brings in more rules and limits certain payments to monthly (11). This increase of weekly to monthly payments has led to an increase in arrears (14).

Opposing the Cuts?         


In 2011 the Green Party was the only party with an independently verified alternative national budget. This involves corporation taxes, green taxes, bank taxes, scrapping nuclear weapons and simplifying the ‘benefit’ system. But the next General Election is in 2015. At the local level some councils were fortunate to have reserves. Some have been able to sell ‘spare’ assets, although this has in the past led to future problems, such as Secondary School shortages.

Leeds council finances -a simplified summary

2008-2009 Government grants = £1189m
2009-2010 Government grants = £1250m
2010-2011 Government grants = £1310m
2011-2012 Government grants = £1274m
2012-2013 Government grants = £1243m
2013-2014 Government grants = £1211m*

Not all of this grant money goes to running council services. Some of it is ring fenced. It is clear that the amount of money the council receives each year is decreasing, never mind inflation pushing up costs every year.

2008-2009 cost of running council services = £540m
2009-2010 cost of running council services = £557m
2010-2011 cost of running council services = £569m
2011-2012 cost of running council services = £582m
2012-2013 cost of running council services = £563m
2013-2014 cost of running council services = £583m

Total council debt up to April 2013= £1964m
Cost of debt interest 2013-14= £30m
Cost of a full hardship fund to stop bedroom tax in Leeds = £4m
Cost of preventing government cuts to council tax support = £4.3m

The council is effectively trying to do more with less money. The Greens identified some minor savings but these are a long way off £4m to stop the bedroom tax. All of the easy efficiency savings have been made. Both the Con-Dems and Labour national budgets include similar total amount of cuts. Labour and the Con-Dems only disagree on whether to make big cuts or longer smaller cuts! Added to this is the increasing cost of adult social care due to “demographic changes” within Leeds.

The council could increase tax rates BUT due to the government ‘council tax freeze’ the authority would be worse off with a modest increase. Under the 2011 Localism Act, a council can only increase council tax by more than 2% if it holds a referendum. The council would take the costs of any referendum and generally high tax rises are unpopular.

Legally you cannot stop the Bedroom Tax but can create some sort of hardship fund. In which case, many other council tenants suffering from the recession may try to apply. Leeds Hands off Our Homes is right to claim the cost of eviction will be high. We hope the public stops voting for Austerity MPs.

*The actual budget is £1248 but this includes £37m grant that was given as council now has the extra job of organising public health.

What about Illegal budgets / not setting a budget ?

In the 1980s certain councils (15) set ‘illegal budgets’, 30 years later things are more complicated. ‘Illegal budgets’ or those which do not add up were banned by New Labour. Any council budget has to make financial sense! It is possible to refuse to set a budget but you require a majority of councillors to do this (In Leeds this would be 50 of 99 councillors). But in each council there is a ‘Section 151 Officer’ (16) who along with council executives can set a budget instead (17). Assuming you had a majority and the council workers were on your side during the budgeting period, the budget would then be referred to central government. Within weeks the government would seize control of the council finances. Potentially they could privatise, sack staff, introduce workfare, cancel projects or sell off important council assets. So anyone advocating not setting a budget has to weigh up the pros and cons of not setting a budget. Certainly if a number of authorities committed to not setting a budget then it would damage the government. We currently have no UK councils prepared to not set a budget. The Greens do not have a majority on a council anywhere and Jason Kitkat of the green minority run Brighton council has found “no appetite” amongst other councils for illegal/non budgets.

Nationally some Green councillors have signed anti-cuts pledges, whilst others have claimed it is a national issue. Some were fortunate to have reserves but after3-4 years of cuts, even the best are now scraping the bottom of the barrel. Next year will be now or never for ‘illegal budgets’. Euro elections are looming in 2014 and in 2015 it is the next General Election. Will any council manage all of the above?

Possible Solutions

1) Argue it is a national issue and the public voted for it.
2) Borrow the money every year until it is repealed.
3) Argue for a referendum to increase council tax.
4) Refuse to set a budget and consistently vote against any budget until austerity ends.
5) ’Rob Peter to pay Paul’.
6) Organise tenants and make it a national issue.
7) Encourage ‘housing co-ops’ or some other form of diversion
8) Mount a legal challenge or use any possible delaying tactic.
9) Increase charges on council services or introduce a levy
10) Something else.

The problem with 2 and 4 is that no one knows how long austerity politics will last, could you set no budget for 10 years? 3 is unlikely to be popular and would cost the council money. 5 means someone else in the council or Leeds will suffer. And 9 has already been implemented on many services. 6 and 8 could be used together but this would cost the council money.

How should Green members in Leeds fight the bedroom tax? Please let us know and support us.

David Smith
Campaigns Officer Leeds Green Party


(2) BBC Look North and the company was






(8)Leeds City Council’s £40m plan to help meet housing shortage, YEP 11th July 2013



(11) Government warns Leeds City Council on bedroom tax, YEP 22nd June 2013





(16) The Leeds Section 151 Officer and Executive are listed here:

(17) Unite briefing on fighting the cuts: Activists Briefing, February 2012.


The State of our Welfare State Part II

This is a follow up a previous post and includes new issues such as housing.

Atos is still removing benefits for disabled people and has recently taken to issuing legal threats to several Atos negative websites! Meanwhile 27 Remploy sites face closure by December 2012 (1). However the Leeds branch is hoping to use their redundancy payments to set up a disabled workers’ co-operative. The campaign to keep the Children’s heart surgery in Leeds has been rejected by the NHS (2). The Children’s Heart Surgery Fund (CHSF) is planning to launch legal action.

NHS celebrated at London Olympics opening ceremony

NHS celebrated at London Olympics opening ceremony

Meanwhile our NHS continues to be privatised in the run up to the implementation of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 in April 2013. In Leeds there are now 3 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) in Leeds. Members of the public can become a member of a CCG, health watch or your local GP Patient Participation Group (PPG). It remains to be seen what influence patients will have or whether they can exercise their ‘patient choice’ by choosing public services.

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 seems to want GPs to become accountants and the accountants to magically gain medical awareness. The Public Health Authority is to be integrated into local authorities and so local councillors can now have an impact. Whilst this could be useful, some suspect this is merely a cost cutting exercise. Could the council afford to deal quickly with an outbreak or epidemic?

The New Leeds CCG boundaries

The New Leeds CCG boundaries











This weblink (3) shows the current and former list of Yorkshire NHS services put up for tender, see from Q32/11/0018 downwards for those which are currently live. The NHS can bid for these services but in late 2011 Virgin complained when it was not awarded a North Yorkshire contract! (4) Recently a financial advice company estimated that the NHS changes will offer ‘£20bn of business opportunities’ (5). Yet it is not only the health part of welfare state which is under attack.

A recent study by the Joseph Rowntree Trust shows that since 1997 an increasing percentageof people think benefits are too high, yet benefits for working age people are actually lower than 1997 (6). The only benefits which have increased during this period are for those on child benefit and pensions. And yes the state pension can be considered a benefit. Yet there are two lots of cuts to housing benefit, one cut to council tax benefit, a reduction in tenancy tenure and various issues with a ‘universal credit’. Workfare and fuel poverty also make life harder. And the fear is that the new anti squatting law will be used to evict tenants.

National housing benefit reductions are already in place in Leeds. The local housing allowance (housing benefit) is currently a maximum of £250 for a single working age person. In addition many people currently receive council tax reductions. However from April 2013 Leeds council will receive a £5-6 million drop in funding for Council Tax Benefit. Anyone receiving a state pension is not affected. The council has sent a letter (7) to those who are affected asking if a 10% or 30% cut to this benefit is preferred AND whether long term empty properties should be charged 150% council tax. It is Green Party policy to actively discourage the hundreds of thousands of empty properties and we would strongly support higher tax rates on empty properties. Council tax benefit is claimed by over 76000 households in Leeds or which 31000 are pensioners and not affected by these changes. We haven’t yet worked out why one person in a band H property is claiming council tax benefit!

Council Tax Band

Working Age


























Alongside council tax changes the government is also reducing housing benefit. Over 85% of housing benefits are from a household where someone works. By April 2013 the government will also introduce what has become known as the ‘bedroom tax’. This will affect anyone living in social/council housing and of working age. Recipients will lose a percentage of their housing benefit for each ‘unoccupied’ bedroom. Nearly 9,000 households will be affected (8), yet even if tenants are capable of downsizing there is barely any single bedroom social housing. Within Leeds there are already 25,000 people on social housing waiting lists. Since 1979 Leeds has lost 30,000 council homes and the government wants yet more people to buy their property. Yet once in they now have a less secure tenure. The Localism Act 2011 allowed social landlords to let on short-term contracts of five years and, in some cases, as little as two years. It is Green Party policy to reverse many of the cuts and start a program of new social housing. Wage stagnation and rising rents are the problem.

Certain welfare benefits are to be tied up into new monthly Universal Benefit payments. Many people have already identified problems with the system (9, 10) and it neither appears universal or of any benefit! We should be aware that any move towards a single payment would only benefit payday loan companies and other vultures. In addition it is believed that by 2016 1 in 3 homes will be fuel poor. Fuel poverty is defined as spending more than 10% of your income to heat your home to 21°C, but there are some anomalies such that the Queen is technically fuel poor!

No publice service cutsSo an unfortunate few could be affected by fuel poverty, council tax, housing benefit, bedroom tax, Workfare and or disability benefit changes.  So what can we do?

Leeds council is facing £40 million worth of cuts, so whilst services can be co-located or hours reduced eventually the axe has to fall somewhere. But should the council accept the government budget changes? In the past ‘illegal budgets’ have been set by local councils. As of yet no council has tried setting such a budget but several councillors have refused to vote for the budget. The three problems with an ‘illegal budget’ are:

(A) A majority of councillors are needed;

(B) The council officers/Exec could set the budget;

(C) After A & B have been resolved the finances are then referred to the national government who could seize control of the council. They could make damaging changes, such as sell off assets.

On the other hand at the right time it could lead to a domino effect and damage the government (11). Some have suggested these changes could launch a campaign similar to the past anti-poll tax action. But these changes are piecemeal and happening on different fronts. The TUC recently mentioned a General Strike but it remains to be seen what people think about this.

What Can I do?

1) Join the Green Party

2) Send a petition to your local CCG

3) Join your CCG and ask questions

4) Join Leeds Tenants Federation

5) Join a local pro NHS or anti-cuts group

6) Write to the paper, appear on radio…

7) Lobby your local union or group.






(5) Kmietowicz, Z (2012) Private Firms are told that NHS in England is open for £20bn worth of business, BMJ 2012;345:e6305







Green Left Fringe at Green Party Conference

At the Green Party (GPEW) Conference in Bristol the Green Left held a fringe on  Saturday 8th September. Videos from the fringe can be found at the Green Left blog site here:

Contributors include Romayne Phoenix (Co-convenor), Howard Thorpe (GPEW Campaigns Co-ordinator), Derek Wall (GPEW International Co-ordinator), and Will Duckworth (new Deputy Leader of GPEW).


Ecosocialism web flyer V2

A Future That Works 20th October

Leeds Trades Council has booked several coaches for the 20th October  A Future that Works march against Austerity. They will keep booking coaches as demand increases. Currently the prices for the seats are £1 for unemployed and £10 for those in work. These may increase nearer the time, so book early! Contact 0790 404 5320 (earlier difficulties have been resolved).

Details of the march

Details of buses from outside of Leeds are available at:
There is also a public meeting in Leeds Civic Hall on 19th September at 6pm organised by Leeds TUC with Mark Serwotka (PCS General Secretary) and many more speakers. More details here

Doled over

Where do I start?

The race to the bottom continues. A quick glance of any high street and job centre vacancy list will soon still tell you that. What was once “desirable” many years ago has now become “essential”. Some of our cities are de-gentrifying: Shops move out and pound/pawn shops move in. But the Ramsdens, Wonga.coms and Poundworlds shops of this world are chasing after an ever decreasing pool of money. Mind you, they can always use some free labour from the governments ‘work programme’. And it appears nearly 60% of people who go to an ATOS assessment are miraculously cured (1) and the other 40% eventually get back what they lost after months of appealing. Still those 40% can answer the old job question:

“Show an example of where you had to overcome a hostile difficult situation”.

The vacancies on the job centre website are increasingly tied in with the downward spiral of desperation: debt collectors, outbound sales, work programme coaches or the classic ‘The company has given an assurance that this vacancy enables workers to achieve a wage equivalent to the National Minimum Wage rate.’ Really? And of course all those lovely £2.60 per hour jobs? (2) AKA apprenticeships which this government is keen to increase, again wouldn’t these have been “trainee” rather than apprenticeships a few years ago? They say many jobs are through friends of friends. But my acquaintances bless them have suggestions which without fail, tend to be out of date, irrelevant or simply useless. Then there are those like me have banded together in a sort of protest / self help group. And the rest are stuck in jobs with no prospect of moving on and do not want extra competition at their workplace. Some are in ‘target’ driven jobs, but have you ever found anyone who likes  been forced to sell tat over the phone to someone who doesn’t want it for a price it’s not worth?

“What’s that Mr Brown, struggling with fuel poverty?; why yes you would love our overpriced boiler insurance scheme that preys on your fears”.

The other day I was speaking to a drunk worker from G4S (oh yes) who couldn’t understand why I was unemployed. I said if anyone offered me a job I would start next week. This just didn’t fit with her cosy world view, and she was horrified by the news of ATOS assessments /workfare.

The other? problem? with being unemployed is you have time to realise how odd our system is: incentivising companies to destroy the planet, the increasing gap between rich and poor, the failure to do something about the ‘ageing population’ or the inability to put people before profit. At the end of the day the only thing left you can rely on is yourself and your principles. I have even heard someone suggest that the unemployed are doing the rest a favour by keeping them employed?

There but for the grace of <insert deity here> go I.

So if you can hack living off £6700 for over 25s (Housing benefit+ jobseekers) or £5700 for under 25s then you too can live the dream! You too can be forced to volunteer on the government’s work program even though the job centre still routinely tells jobseekers to not volunteer more than 1-2 days per week, just in case they miss that non-existent job. Also being on a training course of almost any form would prevent me from receiving benefits.

Jobcentreplus: proud to encourage lying since the New Deal was introduced.

If you work more than 16hr per week you will lose benefits. The worst amount of hours is 16-25hrs since you could be worse off! Especially as minimum wage for 18-20 is £4.98 and 21+ is £6.08 (3). You may get tax credits but with the constant welfare reforms not even the job centre can predict if you will be better off! And the ‘Universal Credit’ system is in trial stages; allegedly Leeds gets to be a Guinea Pig from October. At the moment if you work consistently less than 16hr per week then you get a reduced level of jobseekers’ allowance. However if you have a flexible <16hr job then the job centre can’t cope. But fear not, whilst the Inland Revenue can allow corporate tax evasion the good old job centre will still find you after several years to get back jobseeker overpayments. Only 0.8-1.2% of benefit payments are lost due to fraud (4).

 You might even get sent to a one size fits all 2 weeks course with A4e, Interserve and the other vultures. (If you do then see on how to withdraw your 3rd party consent, if enough people do and ignore the £50-100 bribe you get for finding a job then these companies will soon go bust. They get £500-1000 for you being in a job for 6 months). A4e recently boasted of 3.5% success rate but there is little evidence that these people found jobs due to A4e. Why can’t they send some of this money to the job centre? No one at the job centre has ever even asked for my CV. They are been actively demotivated and undermined by the DWP. Several advisors have privately said they hate the work programme companies as they undermine their jobs. Good old joined up government policy, almost good as the “competition and cooperation panel” in the new NHS reforms.

And Graduate Schemes are the Devil’s spawn. I am genuinely of the view that corporations view them as cheap PR or 1 day jollies at graduate fairs. Ever been one of a hundred at the first stage of an interview scheme for ultimately two positions? Ever been strung along on a 6 month application process? But shock horror no one thought where all these extra graduates should go, let alone which sectors would collapse within a few years. And you also get the double whammy of been ‘over qualified’ for certain jobs! Should we congratulate the league tables on improving the education of the unemployed? All the universities and graduate agencies are playing the same game trying to gloss over unemployed graduates. After all aren’t students (and jobseekers) simply another ‘market’ to take advantage of?

TEFL? (Teach English as Foreign Language). Well I don’t think fleeing poverty is particularly the best reason to teach and SHOULD not be the reason you consider isolating yourself for 1 year abroad. And of course when you come back you could be in a worse position than when you started. And in the meantime someone might have finally said

“You know what, isn’t a double dip the same thing as a depression”?

Family business? Simply not an option I’ve even tried the colleague of the brother-in-law of my sister’s fiancée, can you get any more tenuous?

Business? “So why don’t you set up your own business?”… to which I reply there are thousands of people who have already tried that, you don’t make money reinventing the wheel unless it’s a million pound wheel. Then all you do is make another company bankrupt and unemployed. If I wake up one morning with a genuine original idea I will let you know. Certain job centres were even encouraging the unemployed to go self employed to massage the figures.

Council jobs? With 85% of the cuts still to come I consider it fairly useless in applying for council jobs, surely they will go to recently sacked staff?

Bar work? But I need full time hours and often they require experience, I tend to get put off adverts which ask for a ‘zany’ personality. A pub would be ok but they are closing down.

Night shifts? I don’t mind the odd one and accept I should get paid less than someone who only does night shifts.

Agencies? Be it accommodation or job they are useless. I could apply to work an agency but I would only be making the system worse! I’m also bemused by companies who offer 6 month jobs through agencies rather than themselves. Agencies should be only for last minute labour and senior headhunting.

Allotment? A full allotment would cost £30 a year and there are now waiting lists. After all the government aren’t interested in your health or doing something useful.

Freeganism? Despite that employees hate throwing away food, several supermarkets still do. They also now lock away their bins and often pour bleach on the food. The question is why do supermarkets love landfill, did I miss a meeting?

Squatting? That’s now even more illegal whereas buildings which stand empty for years are legal. After all with the relaxed planning laws we wouldn’t want to retrofit or refit our old buildings when we could build on greenbelt.

And you know I have had several jobs and know I can get a permanent job. Who knows if it say it enough times I might even believe it.

Hmmm so how do you set up a co-operative?



(3) Over 25 HB + JSA = £6700  Equivalent to 21.5hr * £6.08 *52.14 =£6815 but you also get council tax discount worth several hundred pounds so probably nearer 22hr.

Under 25 over 21 HB + JSA = £5700 equivalent to 18hr * 6.08 *52.14 =£5706

Under 25 aged 18-20 HB + JSA = £5700 equivalent to 22hr *£4.98 *52.14 =£5712

Bearing in mind the average wage is supposedly £26000 but this is not an average across those who have and do not have jobs.


The State of our Welfare State

The Coalition Government’s cuts are hitting the most vulnerable in a very obvious way. Attacking disabled people by closing the Remploy factories is low, and children in Leeds are now being affected by the closure of a specialist heart surgery. Leeds Green Party Campaign Officer David Smith gives more details here on the Leeds Green Party site.

Government taking us back to Victorian times

The Green Party wants a fairer more equal society. By marginalising the vulnerable we only cause more problems and hardship. Contrary to government belief, there are several alternatives to simply cutting and these changes seem to come from idea that “people choose to be poor”. In a more fairer society many problems such as crime become lower. This government is imposing changes to our NHS with little medical or public support. For instance, they would rather renew nuclear weapons than keep a hospital open.

But they are not stupid, as many stand to gain through shares in health / venture companies. The majority of the Cabinet (and a number of the Shadow Cabinet) are millionaires and so can hardly be expected to be in touch with normal people. Some will say attacking the rich is an old fashioned argument but the top 0.1% of income earners currently take 7% of the national income. According to High Pay Commission by 2035 we will have reached Victorian levels (14%), in addition many of these profits have come from destroying our planet or increasing carbon emissions. According to several studies our carbon emissions have not gone since 1990 as we merely exported our dirty industry, rather than cleaning it up.

Welcome to the Leeds Green Left blog

This blog aims to promote the view that to tackle the climate change disaster facing the planet and humankind,  Green politics must address social inequality as well as environmental issues. The two are closely linked. Furthermore a system like capitalism based on using finite resources as means of making profits is at odds with ecology and must be replaced with a fairer and greener system.