Bedroom tax eviction process flawed
January 18, 2014 by Grace Franklin
A large number of people are being wrongly evicted for rent arrears when part of their arrears has been bedroom tax.
In the first case of its kind in Scotland, a tenant in Glasgow was saved from eviction last week, thanks to overlooked legislation.
It took an ordinary member of the public and a community minded lawyer to bring this scandal to the notice of Glasgow Sheriff Court.
An average of 150 people a week are now being ‘ejected’ – the court term for eviction – because social landlords take them to court for non-payment of rent.
This number has risen dramatically since the bedroom tax has kicked in.
Accountant Theresa Stirling, who has been studying this area of law, was in Glasgow Sheriff Court recently to offer help to people about to be evicted. She said: “One tenant clearly did not understand what the Sheriff meant when he told her she would be ‘ejected.’ The lady – who has a teenage granddaughter living with her – told him that she was paying off her arrears. And then she asked him: ‘Do I get to keep my house, now?’ This highlighted to me she did not understand what the Sheriff was saying because she certainly would not be keeping her house if she was ejected.’’
At this point Theresa jumped up from her seat in the public gallery and persuaded the Sheriff to re-look at the case. “By law, a person paying money towards a debt of arrears should not be in the eviction process, far less have a decree granted against them,” said Theresa.
She found lawyer John Flanagan willing to take on the case.
When he investigated the tenant’s situation he found several reasons to stop eviction. He said:‘I was able to show that eviction should not go ahead because part of the tenant’s arrears was caused by the bedroom tax and as this particular person had been a tenant in the property since 1996 her Housing Benefit should not have been cut for under-occupancy of a spare bedroom. There is legislation which says that tenants in that situation are exempt from such cuts. This seems to have been overlooked by Government and Local Authorities.’
A former Glasgow City Councillor, John Flanagan formally requested the Court to allow his client time to apply for a housing benefit review because in this tenant’s case, her rent arrears were wrongly calculated. Her case will be re-presented to the Court in a few weeks.
‘This is the first time the legislation around the bedroom tax has been tested in Scotland. Some lawyers are referring to this as a ‘loophole’ but it is not. It is there in law,’ he said.
Theresa Stirling has been so incensed by the large number of people she’s seen wrongly in line for eviction because of the so-called loophole that she has brought the situation to the notice of the Court of Session and every elected representative she could think of in Scotland, the UK and Europe.
She added: ‘It is an extremely worrying state of affairs. Actions are being taken to Court prematurely, based on wrong and misleading information and causing great distress to an increasing number of people. It needs to stop and this case may be the first sign that justice will be done.’