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Monday, 15 August 2011

How short is long-term?

UK Prime Minister David Cameron posted on the conservative blog on 29th July, 2011, an article entitled “We’re doing the right thing for the long term”.

Four nights of rioting later he seems to be advocating removing benefits from people involved in the rioting, as well as their council (or council subsidised) homes. However populist this idea may be, it can hardly be seen as anything but an ill thought out kneejerk reaction.

If the action of one person (adult or minor) within a household can result in the whole family no longer having a roof over their head the consequences might not be as anticipated:

  • In order for a council to evict a tenant in England, the council needs to obtain a court order, having first given 28 days notice of its intention to apply for such an order, under the 1985 Housing Act. This may well have little immediate effect.

  • Once the case reaches court, the decision would have to be made to evict the person/family. If the tenancy agreement has been honoured by the tenant then the only grounds for eviction would be if a ‘serious criminal offence’ has been committed. Neither burglary, nor looting, nor handling stolen goods are considered as being a ‘serious criminal offence’, unless there are multiple offences of burglary. So the chances of anyone being evicted appear somewhat slim.

  • In the seemingly unlikely event that a court upholds the eviction order, a whole new can of worms is opened. This is of course not a reason for the court to shirk its responsibility but, having one’s eyes open is probably not a bad idea either. So if the person/family is now homeless, they will undoubtedly apply to their local authority to be rehoused with one of three outcomes:

    • The local authority rehomes. This would be ludicrous as all the effort and procedural messing about would have resulted in absolutely nothing.

    • The local authority refuse to rehome and the tenant and his family decide to live rough. This would not enhance anybody’s chances of getting a job (having no fixed abode), could only lead to more disaffection of  those involved, more disenfranchisement (more on this on another occasion) and probably not the image of London (amongst others) that the UK would like to show the world, especially when the Olympic spotlight shines next year.

    • The local authority refuses to rehome and the tenant and family live with friends/relatives. It would seem somewhat foolhardy to expect that the friends/relatives of the now evicted family have ample accommodation to house them. So these people will be sharing accommodation with others in conditions that will probably contravene the Housing Act (S. 325) which stipulates that a dwelling cannot be overcrowded. This would then potentially lead to the local authority applying for an eviction order (which would be against the ‘innocent’ tenant)… and the whole cycle starts again.

There isn’t an easy answer to the problem but hot air is definitely not a solution.

The carrot and stick approach is very laudable but only works if both carrot and stick are properly utilised. Threatening to beat someone with a soggy carrot or to give them plenty of sticks to eat will not work.

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