Riots & Evictions

First of all, let me make clear that I am neither left wing nor right wing, and I’m not a member of any political party. I am merely a humble solicitor with, I hope, balanced and objective views some of the time.

According to the news, Wandsworth Borough Council has served an eviction notice on a council tenant whose son was convicted of charged with an offence allegedly committed during the recent riots in London.  I do not support this course of action because I believe it is disproportionate, it is an “extra” financial punishment visited upon the innocent family of the convicted and it is the result of (understandable but worrying) knee-jerking by politicians.  And what about innocent until proven guilty…

I have had many discussions on Twitter about this particular matter and there have been many responses in favour of what the council is doing.  I will not rehearse my arguments here because my tweets can be seen on my timeline. I am sure other wiser tweeters have put forward far better examples than I have. I just want to set out a hypothetical example below… no law, just the human costs…

A hard-working family of four lives in a council house in central London – consisting of father, mother, daughter and granddaughter.  The father is the council tenant and he and his wife works full-time on minimum wage at local businesses; the daughter works part-time on minimum wage and her daughter is at a local primary school with many friends. They are happy where they are and neighbours are nice to them – a decent working-class family they call them.

Daughter is then convicted of the theft of a hairdryer from an electrical store 10 miles from the family home. She expressed remorse and pleaded guilty at the first opportunity, she receives a criminal record and a fine but not jailed because she has a young daughter. She loses her job as a nursery assistant due to her criminal record.

The council serves an eviction notice on her father, and let us assume for the moment the court then grants a repossession order at the subsequent hearing (I believe it unlikely, see update)

[ Update – as pointed out by @nearlylegal on Twitter, commission of an offence in the “locality” is a requirement for possible possession, see his blog post .  So in my hypothetical example, assume the electrical store is next to the council property, I do not believe it detracts from the human angle of this post) ]

Anyway, thousands of pounds are paid to their legal aid lawyer to defend the repossession claim. Court time & council legal department time comes to say 2 full days (while other more “appropriate” cases are waiting in the pipeline…)

The whole family is later evicted by bailiffs. They cannot afford to rent privately with their low incomes as the daughter is not working anymore. The family has to move to a cheaper area, and rents a smaller property from a private landlord at a rent 4 times the previous council rent, they apply for housing benefit which is granted. The granddaughter has to change schools and loses all her friends. The father and mother also lose their jobs because they cannot afford to travel from outer London into central London to work on minimum wage.  All three of them apply for jobseeker and income support benefits, they are granted them.  Father now suffers depression and GP prescribes medication free of charge.  The granddaughter now has free school meals. The whole family suffers a tremendous blow to their lives.

The daughter has even less money because she has to pay the court fine out of her child benefit money for years to come. She is tempted to shop lift so her daughter can have new school shoes, but decides she has caused enough trouble for everyone. But another person may commit further crimes – has nothing to lose now…

The taxpayers pays thousands more ££ in legal fees, benefits and prescriptions. The family uprooted & lives damaged.  Some might say their benefits should also be withdrawn, well that means sleeping rough, probably driven to crime in order to survive (how else can they eat?), more illness and child taken into care.

Now contrast the above with what might happen to a millionaire’s daughter who is convicted of the same offence of stealing a similar hairdryer at that same electrical store. She pays her fine, gets a criminal record, goes to work for daddy and carries on as before. Even if she loses her job with no daddy to work for, she will STILL get benefits.

I always remind myself of Colonel Tim Collins’ 2003 Eve of Battle speech to his troops in Iraq, he said:

” … if you are ferocious in battle, remember to be magnanimous in victory… “

How civilised a society is can be judged from the way it treats its poor and yes, even criminals. Should the punishment fit the crime?  People living in council homes are not second class citizens, are they?

PS. I have not dealt with Human Rights aspects, nor whether councils can be challenged if they do not evict tens of thousands of other tenants under similar circumstances as above but where the convictions were prior to the riots, or indeed 6 months from now.

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About Art Li

Briefly, I am a lawyer, keen amateur photographer, dog lover and politics junkie but not a member of any party. Full details on Biography page. Follow me on Twitter @Art_Li.
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14 Responses to Riots & Evictions

  1. Pity some cannot see the bigger picture!

  2. madmary says:

    Well said. I know it’s unpopular at the moment to say what you have said but you echo my concerns.

    Mary

  3. Edwin says:

    Picture this (to build on your example): the sanction (potential threat of eviction) is common knowledge in advance because of several high profile cases, and the parents of the daughter in question drum into her and the rest of their family repeatedly and at length the (genuinely) dire consequences to the entire family should anyone put them all in a position of jeopardy through petty crime and mindless antisocial behaviour. Result: no crimes committed, and a WIN for the whole of society (including the girl of course!)

    All the arguments I have seen AGAINST taking away benefits magically presuppose that crimes will continue to be committed in future by the folks to whom the supposed changes in the law apply. But what if – dare to look past the end of your nose for just a minute – they actually STOPPED committing those crimes? And what’s more, they stopped because of this new and very potent threat? Their lives would be improved (no need to go in and out of court, constantly fear for the stability of their situation, they would be better perceived by potential employers and the wider society, the crime rate in their area drops and more money/investment flows into it, creating jobs, etc. etc. etc.) and eveyone else benefits too. A huge win all round!

    • Art Li says:

      Thanks Edwin, I am aware of the potential deterrent effect. I say potential because all kinds of crimes continue to be committed by millions of people, including murder in countries with the death penalty. The point I was trying to highlight, not very well it seems, is the contrast in treatment between the council tenant family and the millionaire’s daughter. Seems to me the low paid gets punished more (in my example).

    • yan harris says:

      Does your logic apply to a millionaire’s daughter, or son who rioted ? Or does the father pay , and the child getts away scot-free ? Or am I not looking past my nose ?

  4. madmary says:

    Edwin most people don’t realise that their tenancy agreements contain such a clause. They do where I live.

    I know a lot of people who do drum into their children and families the need to behave. It doesn’t always work. I know people facing eviction because of things that their families are said to have done but which notwithstanding their efforts they cannot stop.

    I know of an example where the housing authority actually claim that the tenant has not cooperated with them when they have not kept to a contract. I was at the meeting.

    The main thing is you cannot evict someone from a home that they own unless they stop paying the mortgage. You can evict someone from their home because someone else does something wrong even if it’s something that person would not approve of and would not have encouraged.

    Fairness requires that all who commit crimes be treated the same.

    Mary

    • Edwin says:

      Mary, those who commit crimes are already not treated remotely the same. Fines are commonly levied in proportionally to the “ability” to pay, which has led to farcical (but sadly very real) cases in which the defendant has been required to pay £1 or similar amount because they had “no assets”. However, it is highly likely that they are in receipt of a string of benefits – and that all other things being equal, the more financial duress they supposedly labour under, the longer the laundry list of these benefits becomes.

      So why not take away a portion of this “income” which is being handed over out the pockets of the rest of society? I believe that after a few widely circulated and high profile cases, this would have a very real and potentially effective deterrent effect on those walking the law-abiding/criminal borderline.

  5. Completely agree. Completely counter-productive to ‘hit them until they bleed’ – as well as wrong in the general sense.

  6. Just to play Devil’s Advocate, what about the working low income family, none of whom have undertaken any criminal or antisocial behaviour, who have been on the social housing waiting list for years and are currently in overpriced/unsuitable private rented accomodation? Is it fair on them that the family of a rioter can stay in social housing when they may have to wait many more years on the waiting list?

    On a more practical level, what about putting the families of convicted rioters on a kind of probation where if any family member undertakes any further criminal/antisocial activity they are then evicted? Would this act as a deterrent?

    • Art Li says:

      Thank you Rebecca for kindly leaving a comment. My post was about the specific Wandsworth case where the tenant did not allegedly commit a crime but her son; but speaking generally, it is a question of proportionality, consistency & locality (as mentioned in the post), the effect of evicting a family is that the State picks up the bill anyway further down the line, paying for temporary bed & breakfast accommodation, then having to rehouse long term (possibly in another borough) or pay housing benefit so the family can rent privately. The fall-out is not just financial, there are potential societal consequences too – family breakdown, health problems, interruption in education etc. The time & money needed to resolve those may well be better spent on building more social housing or funding more benefits for others. Problems may also arise when the council is forced to apply the principle of “eviction for crime” across the board and do CRB checks on all current tenants and evict those with certain convictions, but where does one draw the line? 5 years previous, 12 months, or 10 years? The courts will be clogged for years with these cases (under the Human Rights Act possibly), and tax payers will probably also foot those bills too. Further, let’s not forget people don’t always commit pre-meditated crimes, should eviction only apply to pre-meditated crimes? I like the idea of a probation, but already all council tenancy agreements contain clauses which give the council powers to evict. The recent publicity will help to publicise those.

      As for people waiting for council housing, apart from building more houses, govt can legislate (and plans to) for families to vacate council housing once their earnings reach a certain higher level, that has its downsides too (“lose your home by working hard”), but looks fairer than the current system whereby a family on £100K can remain. Sorry if reply is a bit rambling, tiredness does that to me 🙂

  7. Completely agree. The glee that I’ve seen a lot of people express in the rush to evict council tenants is pretty disgusting. I was under the impression that the law should treat each case individually, how anyone can support politicians calling for the families of criminals to have an additional sanction placed upon them that would not apply to others is beyond me.

  8. cwtchcorner says:

    In the hypothetical example the most likely outcomes are these: 1) Daughter leaves the property, her father not evicted, granddaughter left in care of grandparents. LA has to provide support including financial support to the grandparents to enable them to care for the child (either side of their jobs) or one of the grandparents quits work to look after the child (they might both work night shifts of jobs for example) and the LA/govt then provides additional support. LA support will have to be more substantial if the grandparents then, to give the child stability, apply to court to confirm the living arrangements (2) the daughter leaves the property with the child. The LA will have to provide support to the child which may include financial support/ accommodation (inc b and b) child probably has to change school. Depending on geography the daughter may not be able to rely on the grandparents for support. If she had a good relationship with her employers and was a good employee she should not have lost her job (it is not an offence which prevents you working with children) But depending on her circumstances the job may no longer be viable due to paying childcare/ transport to grandparents/ transport to work. If she therefore has to quit her job (or maybe her employers choose to sack her) she is probably unlikely to find a new one in that field as google (which most employers use) will give details of the incident. She will therefore be unemployed which will be supported by benefits while she seeks a new job.

    Consequence for a wealthier family. Apart from embarrassment (hopefully) nothing. If she loses her job if she wants to work he can assist her in setting up her own nursery, probably knows someone who has a nursery, allow her to relocate,assist her with transport to a job in another area.

    —————————————————-

    LA’s have had powers for a long time to evict people for anti-social behaviour. LA’s do not often use such powers partly because with such behaviours there are often other issues are connected that will cause a bigger and more costly headache for the LA. Whilst the country is angry and what happened the crimes a number of these people have done are no worse then some of their neighbours. Because of this people haven’t felt that there are any “teeth” and therefore consequences to their actions. Neighbours who have been involved in criminal/ anti-social behaviour for a significant time are being sidelined for LA’s to prioritise those who were involved in rioting, many of whom had no criminal convictions and who had not impacted on their communities before. I am concerned that the knee-jerk reaction to the riots means that we are not looking at those which are the main cause for a break down in our neighbourhoods. There is a lot more concerning anti social behaviour which LA’s and police should be focussing on and which when people put their rational heads back on they would prefer their public authorities to sort out.

    If we want people to report/identify people who commit crimes surely they are less likely to do so if they are going to lose their homes if the person is caught?

    I think that we should be differentiating between children and adults who have been involved in the riots. It is unfair that the consequences for the families of those children who are from more well off families are not as significant as those from poorer families. The former are not facing losing their homes for the actions of their offspring. If our ultimate aim as a country is that we are all treated equally by the law- that it doesn’t matter whether you are a banker or an MP or a teacher or a road sweeper- then we should not be supporting this policy. The sentences handed down to those caught have been significant. (I do agree that perhaps if sentences had not been so light for a significant period of time we might not be seeing such a problem now, however that is a discussion for another day). If we ever want these young people to become contributing members of society let them deal with their punishments and give them the chance to do so. Alienating them from their families, causing their families added pressure by homelessness, providing a source of resentment towards the state, showing the country that we are differentiating in punishments between those who have and those who have not is only going to serve to push them down an unacceptable path.

    Local Authorities have a number of duties towards children. This includes provision under the children act to provide support (including financial support) for children who are in need and includes provision to provide accommodation to children when their parents are unable to do so. LA’s also have duties to keep families together. Unfortunately one consequence will therefore be that children’s services departments will have to provide support including housing for children and in some cases families. This may include private renting, b & b accommodation, providing deposits. This will impact on budgets and impact on already over-stretched staff. Quite often such moves will result in a change of school. Is it right that their siblings should also be punished? The answer is not to bring the children into the care of the LA either. The outcomes for children who leave Local Authority care are poor . Children of that age will vote with their feet and the LA in such cases are no better parents than the parents themselves. Is it really only bad parents who don’t know everything their children are up to? Looking to my own teenage years a number of my friend’s parents thought they were staying at a friends house when in reality they were in a pub or with boys or hanging about. Quite often parents only think they know where their children are. When you were a teen were you more bothered about what your parents thought of you or your peer group. Wasn’t that the time when parents just didn’t understand you? Which is not in any way to say that parents are excused from the behaviour of their offspring but we also need to accept that there are a number of other influences on children’s lives, particularly teens. There are a number of children who behave unacceptably as a consequence of parenting or rather lack of parenting, I would suggest that these families are already known and should have been tackled before not left till now. A consequence of evicting families may be to encourage parents to give up on their children as can be seen regularly with “problem children” to decide they are beyond their control and to hand these children into the control of the state. When we have young people like one of our Olympic Ambassadors caught up in the rioting (reported to police by her parents) it is too simplistic to blame the parents.

  9. Al Jahom says:

    I think it’s fair to say that the last couple of weeks have been most instructive, in regard to both our politicians and our plebs.

    Boots must be selling tubigrips for knees like hot cakes!

  10. AJ says:

    Thank you for posting this interesting article. As an American used to reading polarized opinions from both sides in similar matters, it is reassuring reading the thoughtful pondering of long term consequences and compassion expressed.

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