Ruckus at Camden Town Hall over bedroom tax forces mayor to adjourn meeting

Protesters opposed to welfare reforms outside Camden Town Hall

Protesters opposed to welfare reforms outside Camden Town Hall - Credit: Archant

A meeting at Camden Council descended into chaos after campaigners shouted at councillors during a heated debate over the controversial bedroom tax.

The full council meeting on Monday evening had to be adjourned following deputations from UNISON and Camden United for Benefit Justice in which they called for the local authority to take a stand against the government’s welfare benefits reform.

During the noisy debate at the Town Hall, the anti-cuts campaigners demanded Camden Council refuse to evict anyone caught out by the bedroom tax, which sees housing benefit cut if people have unused rooms in council properties.

The campaigners demanded that spare bedrooms are re-classified as unspecified rooms to avoid the penalty.

UNISON shop steward Maddy Cooper said Camden should follow other Labour councils in Leeds and Nottingham, where such measures have been introduced.

Petra Dando from Camden United for Benefit Justice said the bedroom tax would push people into arrears and risk making them homeless.

Camden Council’s finance chief, Cllr Theo Blackwell, said re-classifying spare bedrooms would breach the council’s statutory duty and run the risk of Camden losing the £150million it receives from the government for housing benefit.

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He also said a ‘no evictions’ policy just for those caught out by bedroom tax would force the council to protect one group of people over others affected by wider welfare changes, such as the benefits cap.

But repeated loud exchanges from the floor and in the public gallery eventually led Mayor of Camden, Cllr Jonathan Simpson, to temporarily suspend the meeting.

Speaking to the Ham&High afterwards, UNISON shop steward Ms Cooper said: “I think we have got the council a bit rattled. There is such a huge protest across the country, there is a real movement of local communities coming together because they are so angry at this attack.

“There is a real ground swell and no party can ignore that. The more debate we have the better.

“Labour councils can come together and build on that ground swell - there is real potential for a massive fight back.”

Shouts of “no evictions, shame on you” continued as the meeting resumed before the protesters were asked to leave.

A motion put forward by Green Party councillor Maya De Souza calling for the administration to fight against welfare reforms was seconded by Lib Dem councillor Rahel Bokth and will be formally debated at a later date.

Cllr Blackwell said: “It’s probably the fifth public meeting we have had on this issue where it’s been disrupted by the same group of people.

“I’m concerned there have been incidents where people have been put off asking for advice from the council by the group.”

He said the impact of bedroom tax was actually very limited compared to other changes to benefits.

Cllr Blackwell added: “The test is not sticking two fingers up at the government, does it help people?

“We have great sympathy and we want the policy reversed but we don’t want tenants being led down a blind alley for the sake of ill-thought out campaigns.

“The real test will be the introduction of the benefit cap in August which will really impact people in the private sector and possibly force people to move out of Camden.”