CAMPAIGNERS have lost their fight for ‘freedom of choice’ over changes to council rent payments.
Members of Kirklees tenants’ and residents’ associations protested at plans to rip up tenancy agreements and make changes to how more than 23,000 households pay their rent.
Currently tenants can pay via their bank account, the Post Office, pay-points, in shops or council offices but that’s set to change in April and the only payment choice will be mandatory Direct Debit.
Richard Bastow made the deputation to Kirklees Cabinet as 30 people waved placards outside Huddersfield Town Hall.
He said: “This is about freedom of choice, we’re being offered no choice in the way we pay our rent and we believe this is wrong.”
He told Cabinet members: “You should offer more than one choice. Paypal, your chosen provider, allows collection via more than one method so why are you restricting it to just Direct Debit?
“For many people going out to pay their rent is the only social interaction they get.”
Brenda Bodenham criticised the council and Kirklees Neighbourhood Housing for a “threatening” letter telling tenants they face eviction if they fail to sign up to Direct Debit and fall into arrears.
The sub-postmaster of Honley Post Office said: “I had a 96-year-old lady come to my counter in tears and trembling because she received the letter.
“Cabinet, I ask you, how can you treat the most vulnerable and treasured citizens like this?
“I understand there are costs to be saved, trust me there are ways to save a lot of money, but taking away the right to choose, is that far more important than a penny-pinching exercise?”
Two other people made representations against the council’s proposals, but the Cabinet members confirmed they would not reassess their plans.
Simon Rodgers, chief executive officer of Kirklees Neighbourhood Housing (KNH), apologised if people felt their letters were threatening but said they had a legal duty to inform tenants of the changes.
He added they were “facing unprecedented changes” in the way benefits are being paid, with tenants getting benefits directly, rather than paid on their behalf.
“We will have to collect 10,000 more rent payments from October and each transaction costs money. This is a cost-effective way to ease the pressure.”
Clr Peter McBride said: “This isn’t something we wish to do, it’s something we have to do.”
His Cabinet colleague, Clr David Sheard, member for Resources, said: “What we’re talking about affects a small amount of people, 80% have already signed up to it.”
He said the cost would have to be passed on if they didn’t make savings.
KNH and the council has agreed to phase the Direct Debit payment in and Clr Jean Calvert, of Ashbrow ward, offered to help her constituents fill forms in if necessary.
Also at the Town Hall was mum-of-one Rebecca Lambert, who received a letter saying her housing benefit was being cut as she ‘over-occupied’ her Deighton home.
However, Ms Lambert lives with her 16-month-old son Sam, who was not on council records.
She said: “They said I had a spare bedroom, but I’ve got Sam and they know that, the council’s housing woman who moved me into the house knew that.”
She was told she would lose 14% of her housing benefit as a result, but after complaints to Kirklees Council they’ve added Sam as living in the property.
“How many other people have they made mistakes over?” Rebecca asked.
Clr Sheard dubbed the housing benefit bedroom-tax issue the ‘Pickles Poll Tax’.