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.