The movement against the bedroom tax claimed its first victory last week in Manchester, when quick campaigning beat back the threat to tenant Ella Lorelle.
Ella, a mature student with a son in a local school, was due in court on Wednesday of last week. She was several hundred pounds in arrears to landlords Southway Housing, in part due to the bedroom tax that took effect in April of this year.
But she didn’t appear alone. More than 20 people from Withington Against the Bedroom Tax protested outside.
Another member of the group went into the court as Ella’s “McKenzie friend”. This is a person who accompanies someone in court to give informal advise. Ella needed the help as cuts to legal aid in civil cases meant she wouldn’t get a solicitor.
Ella’s neighours organised their own rally at her son’s school.
Labour councillors who sit on the board of Southway were bombarded with emails—particularly Jeff Smith, who hopes to stand for parliament in the next general election.
Even the court workers showed their support, with their PCS union branch secretary Dave Vincent coming to address the demonstration.
“There are people who have a view of the law as neutral,” he said. “But is it right that when the government brings in the bedroom tax the law should be used to evict people? We’ve got to fight the bedroom tax.”
Southway had insisted that it would accept nothing less than the full arrears—which it would have been impossible for Ella to pay.
But on the day it climbed down, agreeing to accept a token sum.
Solidarity had saved Ella’s home.
“I want to thank all who have supported me and are by my side,” she said outside the court.
“My soul believes this isn’t just about me, but about everyone.
“Whether you are claiming benefits, whether you are a student, whether you are working, we are in this together.”
Landlords around Britain report hundreds or even thousands of tenants in arrears due to the bedroom tax and other benefit cuts. They will not be able to evict them all.
The first court cases will be crucial in setting a precedent for enforcing the bedroom tax—or defying it.
Hundreds of people are due to appear in Barnsley magistrates court on Thursday of this week, due to council tax benefit cuts. Campaigners plan to protest outside.
“They’ve more or less said they want to make an example of scroungers,” tenant Cathy Sunman told Socialist Worker.
“I take great exception to that. I worked from the age of 15 to 55 when the place I worked shut down. Now I can’t even afford to go to the supermarkets for food.”
The victory in Manchester was possible because dozens of local anti bedroom tax groups around the city meant Ella had somewhere to turn.
Tory housing ministers Lord Freud and Mark Hoban will address the landlords’ Chartered Institute of Housing conference in Manchester in two weeks’ time.
Protesters plan to greet them.