REPOSSESSION orders have been served against 18 of Stroud District Council’s tenants hit by the so-called bedroom tax in a move which anti-cuts campaigners say raises the spectre of evictions.

Members of Stroud Against The Cuts have criticised the authority for not taking more ‘robust action’ to help tenants affected by the Coalition’s cuts to housing benefit.

The anti-austerity group has also slammed SDC for handing back money to central Government which was intended to help those suffering financial hardship as a result of the welfare reform.

SATC claim the council has denied a number of its tenants discretionary housing payments from a pot of money given to it by the government despite those households falling into arrears.

However, the district council, which last year voted against adopting a no-evictions policy in response to the benefit change – known officially as the under-occupancy penalty – has strongly refuted the criticism.

An SDC spokesman, said: “Contrary to what SATC says, we have been working proactively since and before the reforms came into place to identify those eligible for support.

“We have also contacted them directly to ensure that they are aware of the help they are entitled to.

“We cannot force people to claim discretionary housing payments if they don’t want to and are legally obliged to return any unspent sums to the government.

“Furthermore, we have helped tenants to downsize whilst many others have instead decided to absorb the rent increases themselves.”

According to council figures 254 tenants are currently affected by the removal of the ‘spare room subsidy’, down from 394 when the change first took effect in April 2013.

Of those affected households, 134 are in what the council calls ‘bedroom tax arrears’ and 18 have been served with some kind of repossession order, which typically precedes a formal eviction notice.

Although SDC has refused to adopt an explicit no-evictions policy, the authority’s Labour-led administration has claimed in the past that they do have an implicit one which exists in all but name.

SDC’s leadership has also pointed to the fact that no evictions have taken place thus far and repeatedly stressed that will remain the case.

Commenting on those who had been served with repossession orders, an SDC spokesman added: “Of the 18 we have court orders with only one has accrued all the debt through the ‘bedroom tax’.

“We are still working with all 18 and as long as they comply with the orders there should be no need to move to eviction.”

However, the debate about the controversial policy was re-opened on Tuesday night (September 16) at a meeting of SDC’s housing committee after SATC campaigner and Green Party councillor Caroline Molloy (Central) tabled a motion calling on the authority to write to indebted tenants in order to notify them of an important legal challenge to the benefit reform.

Ms Molloy said that if the test case was successful, tenants affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ stood a chance of being able to reclaim all their arrears but only if they submit a formal appeal to SDC’s housing benefit department within the next month.

But, members of SDC’s housing committee, including Labour and Conservative councillors, voted against notifying tenants of the upcoming case, claiming they did not have enough information about it.

They also refused Cllr Molloy’s request for an emergency meeting to discuss the issue.

Speaking afterwards, Cllr Molloy said: “I was disappointed that the housing committee declined to discuss the issue further at this time, but I will continue to work with council officers, campaigners and local agencies to urgently notify tenants of their right to appeal.”

SATC activist James Beecher said: “We urge people affected by the bedroom tax to get in touch in the next month so we can help them appeal against decisions to reduce their housing benefit.

“Tenants have nothing to lose by appealing but a chance of winning their arrears backdated, particularly if their spare room is too small, if someone has a disability, caring responsibilities, or has experienced domestic violence.

“If any tenant needs help with filling in their appeal form, there is guidance and the official GL24 form (5) on the Stroud Against the Cuts website, or they can contact Cllr Molloy on 07931 302507.”

SDC’s spokesman also said: “We work very closely with tenants in financial difficulty and ensure that they receive all the support they are entitled to and are keeping an eye on any legal challenges.

“If there are any changes we will obviously act accordingly to ensure that our tenants do not miss out. We take the welfare of our tenants and those on low incomes very seriously.”