Agenda item - Minimising the risk of evictions

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Agenda item

Minimising the risk of evictions

Report of Executive Director for Neighbourhoods, Communities & Housing (copy attached).

Decision:

(1)      That Housing & New Homes Committee note the contents of this report.

 

(2)      That Housing & New Homes Committee endorse the actions being taken to support residents and foster a culture of responsibility, thereby minimising the risk of eviction arising from welfare reforms.

 

Minutes:

53.1   The Committee considered a report of the Executive Director, Neighbourhoods, Communities & Housing which reminded members that a Notice of Motion was presented to Council on 6 April 2017, requesting the Committee to call for a report outlining how the risk of evictions arising from, Housing Benefit changes and the Benefit Cap could be minimized. This report looked at actions being taken by the council to minimise the risk of eviction of local residents as a result of impact of welfare reforms. Particular attention was given to groups most likely to be impacted by the changes, including young single people and large families; and the benefit changes causing this impact, namely Universal Credit and the Benefit Cap. The report was presented by the Head of Incomes, Involvement & Improvement.

53.2    Councillor Gibson proposed a Green amendment as follows:

 

          To amend the recommendations as below, as shown in bold italics:

2.2 Where (i) all other avenues have been explored, and (ii) where it is possible to clearly identify that arrears are solely due to the shortfall in housing element resulting from the introduction of universal credit and the benefit cap; officers will use all means to support residents other than evictions and bailiffs to recover rent due.

53.3    Councillor Gibson paid tribute to all the excellent work carried out.  He considered that people would be reassured by the committee publicly stating in an amendment that officers would use all means other than evictions and bailiffs to recover rent due, and they would be more likely to engage with the council with the very effective methods of support offered. 

 

53.4    The Senior Lawyer expressed concern that the amendment would not allow exceptions for tenants to be evicted for rent arrears.  The council currently had a discretion to apply to the courts for a warrant. She suggested that a modification to the amendment was made to state that eviction would be the last resort.

 

53.5   Councillor Mears suggested that the words “other than eviction & bailiffs to recover rent due” were removed from the amendment. She was happy to support the amendment if legal advice was sought.

53.6   The Senior Lawyer stated that the law required that where there was discretion, it should be exercised in each and every case. Elements of discretion must be retained.

53.7   In response to questions it was explained that officers wanted to prevent debt building up. There was no intention to commence court action during the period when benefits were not paid. Officers were trying to do everything to minimise evictions whilst ensuring that tenants are aware of their responsibilities.  Meanwhile, paragraph 7.2 of the report made it clear that any change to the eviction policy would need Policy, Resources & Growth Committee approval. It was further explained that the Money Advice Service advised the council that having a no eviction policy did not help tenants to engage.

53.8   Councillor Gibson asked if the committee were willing to have a transition period time limited to April 2019. It was explained that there were big concerns in terms of having a time limit as this could lead to debt spiraling out of control, which would be hard to manage. Officers wanted to take the responsible approach so residents could take a responsible approach. Officers would not take action whilst people were waiting for Universal Credit.  

53.9   Councillor Druitt formally moved the Green amendment with the further amendment that there should be reference to a transitional period to make it legal. The Senior Lawyer stressed that she had concerns about the legality of the amended amendment.

53.10  The Committee voted on the Green amendment as set out in paragraph 53.3 above and further amended by a reference to a transitional period. The amendment was not carried. Two members voted for the amendment, 4 members voted against and 4 members abstained from voting. 

53.11  Councillor Moonan commended officers for the work carried out. She referred to page 294 paragraph 3.8 (Actions being taken in addition to those outlined in paragraph 3.4). It was not in anyone’s interest to allow tenants to build up big debts. If a tenant was behind with their payments they could get involved in a payment plan.

53.12  Councillor Mears thanked officers for a very detailed report which she supported.

53.13  In response to a question put by Councillor Druitt it was explained that officers did know who people were in the first weeks they went into arrears. Officers contacted them in the first and second week they went into arrears; however it was necessary for people to engage. Officers could make contact but if people did not respond it was difficult to help them. Officers asked tenants representatives to encourage anyone in debt to make contact with the council officers.   

53.14  Councillor Bell thanked officers for all the work they carried out to deal with arrears. Councillor Atkinson concurred. The fact that Brighton & Hove had the lowest rate of evictions out of 105 councils was excellent.

53.15  Councillor Gibson shared in the tributes but considered that the lowest rate of eviction was achieved as a result of no evictions for the bedroom tax. He referred to arrears information of under occupiers on page 295 of the agenda. He stated that the previous policy was not deemed illegal. He considered that some of the fears regarding debt spiraling out of control were unfounded.

53.16  RESOLVED:-

 

(1)      That Housing & New Homes Committee note the contents of this report.

 

(2)      That Housing & New Homes Committee endorse the actions being taken to support residents and foster a culture of responsibility, thereby minimising the risk of eviction arising from welfare reforms.

 

Note: Councillor Barnett left the meeting at this point.

 

Supporting documents:

 


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