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Calls for Camden Council to sign ‘no eviction’ pledge over families affected by welfare reforms

PUBLISHED: 15:57 18 April 2013 | UPDATED: 15:57 18 April 2013

Campaigners from Camden United for Benefit Justice protest outside Camden Town Hall. Picture: Polly Hancock

Campaigners from Camden United for Benefit Justice protest outside Camden Town Hall. Picture: Polly Hancock

Polly Hancock

Campaigners have demanded politicians in Camden launch a more robust challenge of government welfare reforms, that could see hundreds of families evicted from the borough.

Green Party councillor for Highgate, Maya De Souza, is the only Camden councillor to have signed the pledge. Picture: Polly HancockGreen Party councillor for Highgate, Maya De Souza, is the only Camden councillor to have signed the pledge. Picture: Polly Hancock

Protestors gathered outside Camden Town Hall on Monday – wearing top hats and sleeping bags – to demand Camden Council does more to oppose government benefit reforms introduced this week.

On Monday the new benefit cap - which will limit benefits to £350 a week for a single person and £500 a week for families with children - was launched under a pilot scheme in Haringey, Enfield, Croydon and Bromley.

The cap will be rolled out across the country this summer and will leave many families, who receive housing benefit and live in private rented accommodation, unable to afford rents in Camden which are the fourth highest in the country.

People are also at risk of losing their homes over rent arrears run up because of the ‘bedroom tax’, which sees housing benefit cut if people have unused rooms in council properties.

Campaigners called for councillors to sign a pledge guaranteeing no evictions from any household in Camden because of the reforms.

Petra Dando, of campaign group Camden United for Benefit Justice, said: “We asked all of our councillors in Camden to sign a pledge to say that there would be no evictions from any household in Camden because of these changes.

“Only one councillor signed that pledge - and that was Cllr Maya De Souza (Green Party, Highgate).

“We know that there are councils out there that have taken a much stronger stand and said they would not evict these families. Brighton and Hove has said it would not evict people and Nottingham has said it would not implement the bedroom tax.

“We’re not very happy with Camden, certainly we believe our politicians could be a lot more proactive than they are at the moment. Someone’s got to be speaking up for the tenants out there who are very very frightened about what’s happening.”

The benefit cap will affect 565 families in Camden - 38 per cent in council housing, 42 per cent in private housing, and 20 per cent in temporary accommodation.

They may be forced to live elsewhere in London or even move as far afield as Birmingham, Leicester or Bradford.

Another 1,944 council and housing association tenants are affected by the bedroom tax, with most under-occupying by one bedroom resulting in an average loss in benefit of £16.47 a week.

Some 428 tenants affected by bedroom tax have already registered for a transfer, 31 have already moved and another seven have accepted new properties but are yet to move.

But the numbers who can move are limited by low supply of smaller council flats in Camden, meaning tenants are left with no choice but to fall into arrears.

Finance boss Cllr Theo Blackwell said Camden Labour Party has campaigned on the issue since 2010, but insisted signing a “no eviction” pledge would be unfair and the issue required a more complex response.

“I can see what they’re trying to get at, but it’s not fair on every other council tenant who gets into financial arrears - because they’ve lost a job for example - that one group would be protected,” he said.

“There are already lots of tenants who were in arrears before the bedroom tax came in, those people who are already on housing benefit and seeing their housing support go down in really low paid jobs are right up against it.

“Instead we’ve said evict as a really last resort and we’ve put money into helping people through the social fund and a very wide range of measures.

“What I don’t want to do, which is what I fear the campaigners want us to do, is do something that will stick two fingers up at the government but is leading people down a blind alley.”

Camden United for Benefit Justice will hold an information evening on benefit changes at Crossroads Women’s Centre in Wolsey Mews, Kentish Town, from 5-6.30pm on Wednesday, May 8, followed by an open meeting from 7-8.30pm.

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