District councillors have not backed a call to adopt a ‘no evictions’ policy for council residents struggling to pay rent due to the bedroom tax because of doubts of the legality of such a move.
Resident John Moore submitted a petition to Ashfield District Council, calling on the authority to refuse to evict any social tenant for rent arrears caused by the bedroom tax and calling for bedrooms to be reclassified in order to avoid the additional charges.
The petition - which contains more than 1,300 signatures - was debated at Thursday’s council meeting.
Addressing the chamber, Mr Moore, from Kirkby, said that ten other councils have adopted a no evictions policy, including neighbouring Broxtowe Borough Council.
He also claimed that many Ashfield Homes tenants were unaware that they could claim for help with their rent from a fund given to the council by the Government - the Discretionary Housing Payment fund - because the council has not advertised it widely enough.
In reply to Mr Moore, Coun Warren Nuttall, portfolio member for housing, said that the council could not support the no evictions policy.
“We are extremely sympathetic towards the needs and difficulties of our tenants but it would be inappropriate to introduce a blanket no evictions policy as this could be ruled as unlawful by the courts,” he said.
He also said that he believed the reclassification of bedrooms would be ‘legally challengeable’ and could have ‘a significantly detrimental effect on rent collected’.
Coun Nuttall detailed a range of measures that the council has implemented to help its social tenants, and reiterated the council’s condemnation of the bedroom tax.
He put forward his own motion, moving that ‘the council resolves to continue to rigorously pursue an approach of positive prevention rather than introducing a blanket no evictions policy until such time that a no evictions policy is deemed lawful’.
However opposition councillor Jazon Zadrozny, a Liberal Democrat, challenged the Labour group’s dismissal of the no evictions policy, especially if other authorities have adopted it.
“We have the opportunity to help people and we are choosing not to do that,” he said.
Council leader Chris Baron, defending the council’s stance, said: “Our policy is prevention of evictions and not no evictions.”
Coun Nuttall’s motion was passed by the council.
After the meeting, a council spokesman said that a potential legal challenge would be based upon the reasonableness of the policy and the alleged unfairness of protecting a particular group of tenants from eviction.