Homes for All
NatWest Say Yes to DSS!
Fresh from our victory over TSB we started to look at what other banks were up to. In the Autumn of 2018 a news story broke, revealing NatWest had the same discriminatory mortgage terms as TSB, but this time they were actively forcing landlords to evict tenants claiming housing benefit.
ACORN members voted to take action once again and put together a national coalition with Living Rent and London Renter union. Hundreds renters protested and occupied banks in Bristol, Sheffield, Manchester Newcastle, Brighton, Glasgow, and London, once again forcing a major banks to drop its discriminatory policies. NatWest declared that they would lift all restrictions on landlords renting to tenants who are in receipt of housing benefits and extending the maximum length of time of assured shorthold tenancy from 12 months to 36 months, which allows landlords to offer tenants the security of longer tenancies.”
This was a huge win for tenants and for benefit claimants, with the policy change being extended to all UK branches within the RBS group (including NatWest, RBS, & Ulster Bank) and the third major bank that ACORN has taken on and forced to change policies in the last couple of years. This is what ordinary people can do when we come together to take direct action to better our lives.
Solidarity With Survivors
In 2018 our Bristol branch was contacted by two survivors of domestic violence looking for help with the unsafe, chaotic and bullying environment in their ‘safe’ house and from which they were now being evicted. The council who had cut off funding to the safe house provider nevertheless offered no support to the women affected; treating it as a normal house share rather than a commissioned service. They had no-one to turn to. Within 48 hours of meeting with our organisers a large rally of ACORN members took over the front of the Bristol City Council offices forcing the highly-paid council officers responsible to the negotiating table where they agreed to all our demands.
Despite the initial success the council tried to shirk their commitments resulting in an unsuccessful eviction attempt and court case in which our members’ safety was compromised. Following an unrelenting campaign of direct action and behind the scenes negotiating we finally won safe rehousing for our members and a full investigation and review of safe house commissioning. As a result of this the both the council and Women’s Aid have reviewed and improved their policies and the council are lobbying the government for the creation of an ombudsman and national level standards. This is ACORN at its best: turning support for individuals on the front line of austerity, cuts and service breakdown into root and branch policy change at the highest levels. All done through direct action and peer to peer support with those affected as leaders in the driving seat, not passive victims or recipients of support. For more information see articles from the Bristol Cable here, here and here and the Bristol Post here and here.
Sex for Rent
One of the most exploitative but least visible aspects of Britain’s brutal housing crisis is the disgusting situation of landlords using their properties as a means to extract sex from desperate tenants who can’t afford the rent that landlords keep high. Shelter is a fundamental human need and right and the economic coercion makes this rape in all but name. That this not only exists but is an increasing problem shows the power imbalance between landlords and tenants in the starkest possible light. ACORN Newcastle played a leading role in exposing this vile practice and made national TV in the process and ACORN nationally is willing to take direct action to protect tenants from all types of exploitation by landlords and this is no different.
TSB Say Yes to DSS!
We celebrated ACORN’s 4th birthday in style in May 2018 with protests and occupations of branches of TSB across the country. members complained that TSB’s mortgage terms were preventing buy-to-let landlords from renting to benefits claimants, needlessly discriminating against some of the most vulnerable in society and fanning the flames of the housing crisis.
Apart from the obvious attack on our communities, ACORN members were outraged at the arrogance and hypocrisy of TSB’s position. Ten years before when the greed and irresponsibility of the banks plunged the global financial system into crisis TSB were happy to accept the biggest welfare hand-out in history – a £21 billion bailout. Now they were denying a home to people in receipt of a few pounds a week.
After protests and occupations at TSB branches in 7 cities, we forced the bank to drop the clause in another major win for private renters and claimants.
ACORN members have been at the forefront of campaigns for genuinely affordable housing, fighting developers and holding politicians to account over quotas and running community campaigns for new developments to be accessible to members of the local community in which they’re built.
We’ve uncovered plans of developers to raise the costs of living in areas they’re building in to attract a ‘better class’ of tenant, exposed their fraudulent claims that affordable housing isn’t financially viable for them to build and forced them to give in and include housing that will meet the needs of our communities rather than just line their pockets.
Legal loopholes designed to facilitate quick profits for government supporters need to be closed to end this social cleansing but until then we will continue to oppose any development that doesn’t meet the needs of our communities.
Letting Fee Ban 2019
For years letting agents arbitrarily charged tenants extortionate fees for whatever they could think of – signing a tenancy, printing a contract, reference checks, you name it. We even heard of one that charged a ‘collection fee’ for the effort it cost them to collect all their other fees. Exploitative agents often charged tenants hundreds of pounds just for doing their job. After years of campaigning
the government finally changed the law, banning most fees to tenants. Click here to report an agent who is charging fees illegally.
Bristol Council House Sell Off
Heading into the Bristol Mayoral election in 2016 ACORN members organised demonstrations against the proposed sell off of council housing when 16,000 people were on the waiting list. While we were too late to stop the auction we successfully negotiated with then-Mayor George Ferguson that all money from the sale would go to new social housing in the area. In response to the public outrage, then candidate and current Mayor Marvin Rees committed to an immediate halt of all auctions of council housing.
Santander Rent Rise Clause
In 2017 we took our first coordinated national action alongside our Scottish sister organisation Living Rent in protest at a hidden clause in Santander’s buy-to-let mortgage terms that required landlords to raise rents to the ‘maximum level every year.
Faced with renters mobilising to target their branches in 8 cities across the UK Santander backed down and agreed to drop the clause. Our first national victory and the first one for renters in a long time!
Renters Vote 2017
Private renters are much less likely to have their voices heard in elections than homeowners and other tenants. The high levels of insecurity, with tenants often facing eviction multiple times a year means that renters fall off the electoral register, especially with recent changes to the system or simply don’t bother to register because they may not be in the same area next time an election comes around. With Britain’s housing crisis worsening all the time, we needed to make the 2017 General Election one where the voices of private renters were heard loud and clear. Members set up volunteer teams around the country, registering private renters, people in temporary or emergency accommodation, the ‘hidden homeless’, rough sleepers and anyone who was vulnerably housed. We teamed up with Generation Rent to also register people online meaning that thousands got to vote who otherwise wouldn’t have and developed a policy checker that was widely used to help voters make informed decisions at the polls.
Big Housing Conversations
Responding to the demands of Bristol renters organised by ACORN and the overall housing crisis facing the city, we were invited by Mayor Marvin Rees to partner with the Council in the delivery of these historic renters forums and help shape local housing policy.
Across several events and for the first time ever, hundreds of private, Council and social tenants from across the city were brought into the Council House to put forward their ideas for tackling the housing crisis. Aside from the adoption of our Ethical Lettings Charter, issues from rent caps to evictions, from construction of more Council housing to protecting the rights of the disabled and survivors of domestic abuse and much more were discussed and debated and policy proposals were thrashed out. It wasn’t easy and there was much anger in the room but there was also a sense of a growing movement finding its feet. Democracy is about a lot more than voting once every few years. It’s about having an effective voice, the ability to hold politicians to account, to actively impact the policies that affect our lives and these were events where tenant voices were heard loud and clear.
Bristol Needs A Mayor for Homes
Heading into the 2016 Mayoral election, a response to the housing crisis was top of the agenda. This was in large part to the campaigning efforts of ACORN members for the previous two years in which we used direct action to stop revenge evictions, win repairs and deposit repayments, halted the auctioning off of council housing and stood behind our Ethical Lettings Charter. We put the city on notice that any politician wanting to be taken seriously had to engage with us and the issues affecting our members. Joining with advice centres, housing associations and others we created the Mayor for Homes coalition and called on all candidates to
- Set up a majority owned, but independently managed, vehicle to deliver new homes – with a minimum of 30% affordable.
- Build a minimum of 2,500 affordable homes by 2021.
- Use its land and powers to work in partnership to build as many new affordable homes as possible.
- Introduce a city-wide landlord licensing scheme.
- Commit to full enforcement and application of Council powers with regards to the Housing Health and Safety Rating System and an end to ineffective informal action.
- Commit to active and ongoing support and promotion of the Ethical Lettings Charter
Speaking at events across the city, meeting with candidates and organising hustings events ACORN and our coalition partners extracted firm commitments from candidates, including the eventual winner Marvin Rees and who has made tackling these issues the measuring stick for the success of his administration.
Say ‘no’ to the St. Philips Power Station
In May 2019 members in Bristol took action to oppose a new gas fuelled power station planned to be built just 90 metres from a nursery school serving working class families in the most deprived ward in the south west and an area of the city with above average air pollution. Following calls from members, community groups and the school for us to support the campaign we mobilised our networks to contact the Councillors on the planning committee and tell them to vote against the proposals. Following passionate and compelling testimony from local residents, parents and ACORN members, Councillors flatly turned it down, citing the strength of public opposition, the contradiction between this and Bristol’s declared climate emergency and the fact that this would never be proposed in an affluent area When we unite we can ensure that families and neighbours are living, playing and working in safe conditions and to protect our environment now and for the future.
Safe & Healthy Homes
Ethical Lettings Charter
Within a few months of launching and beginning to organiser private tenants ACORN Bristol got the message loud and clear that we needed structural change as well as the direct action around evictions and living conditions that we were quickly becoming known for. The problem was, at that point we were a small community group in a single neighbourhood. We didn’t have the power to change the law and with power centralised in Westminster, neither did the Council. The answer we came up with was a voluntary scheme, given teeth by our campaigning muscle and the endorsement, support and publicity of the Council and other organisations to pressurise landlords and letting agents to up their game. This would then be used as a sprindboard to building the organisation to the level that we could actually make the changes we needed legally binding.
Members launched an innovative twin-pronged door knocking and social media campaign to gather the testimonies of Bristol renters both as evidence of the severity of the problems faced and as the basis of the clauses of the Charter. Announcing the Charter as “a declaration of decency and a statement of intent” members lobbied Councillors and Mayor George Ferguson to officially endorse it. Following demonstrations of hundreds of renters the motion was passed unanimously. Politics being what it is, the decision was not followed up by action until after the 2016 Mayoral election when the newly-elected Marvin Rees fulfilled his obligation to our Mayor for Homes campaign and officially endorsed and integrated the scheme into Bristol City Council’s approach to lettings making it the first Local Authority in the country to introduce an ‘ethical lettings charter’
A third of privately rented homes would fail the Decent Homes Standard and for years ACORN has used direct action to prevent revenge evictions and get repairs made to slum housing. Licensing of landlords provides some legal protection from eviction and extends council powers to inspect properties. In 2016 we successfully mobilised a thousand tenants to demand the extension of landlord licensing to two wards in Bristol and 2018 saw the culmination of our Mayor for Homes campaign as the administration responded to our election demands and following extensive mobilising from ACORN to defeat an aggressive counter campaign from the landlord lobby brought in additional licensing to a further 12 wards across Bristol.
In Newcastle members fought a hard campaign for Selective and Additional Landlord Licensing across the city by pressuring individual Councillors and staging actions at council consultations. As a result licensing was brought in across various areas of the city with high levels of private rentals though at the last minute the Council gave in to the landlord lobby and cut the scheme back. In response Newcastle has launched a new campaign to get local tenants the protections they deserve.
Tower Block Safety
After receiving a tip-off that a private accommodation block had the same cladding that led to the Grenfell fire disaster Newcastle members demanded that it be removed. After initially denying that it was the same flammable cladding the owners only came clean after ACORN raised awareness and support for the campaign by petitioning outside the block and going on the radio to expose them. Even then the owners said that the cladding was safe. Of course nobody was convinced by their explanations and disgusted by their disregard for the safety of their tenants ACORN members continued the public petitioning until they agreed to take it down.
Two years on from their initial victory over cladding, ACORN members organised into local groups in tower blocks in the east Newcastle confronted their landlord Your Homes Newcastle on major issues of fire safety in Spring 2019. Over 15 fires were reported in one tower block over the first months of 2019, and fire services suspect arson. After a hard-fought campaign of direct action, petitioning and accountability meetings where members forced YHN’s Managing Director to negotiate, they won a major victory by getting thermal CCTV cameras and sprinklers installed to stop the spread of fires in the tower blocks.
‘No Fault’ Evictions Scrapped
For years private tenants in England and Wales have been the most insecure in Europe due to Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act that allows landlords to evict tenants for no reason and with just two months’ notice and facilitating revenge evictions in response to tenants asking for repairs. . Since 2015, some 140,000 tenants have been victims of Section 21 revenge evictions making it the leading cause of homelessness in England. ACORN has fought the effects of this for years; resisting evictions and tackling the issue in our Ethical Lettings Charter. In 2018 we joined a coalition alongside Generation Rent, London Renters Union, Tenants Union UK and the New Economics Foundation and fought a year long campaign under the End Unfair Evictions banner to scrap the law. 50,000 people signed our petition and in April 2019 the government announced that they would be abolishing it and introducing open-ended tenancies. This is the most significant victory for tenants in decades and shows that the tide is slowly beginning to turn in our favour. The battle isn’t over yet as the powerful landlord lobby tries to bring it back through the back door via Section 8 but we are ready and mobilising to make sure this doesn’t happen (see current campaigns). This added security and confidence will give us a solid platform to begin the fight for rent controls!
No Universal Credit Evictions
As Universal Credit was being rolled out in 2018, many housing benefit recipients were seeing huge delays in receiving their payments leaving them in rent arrears and threatened with eviction. ACORN branches across the country won assurances from social and private landlords and letting agents that they would not evict any tenant who fell into rent arrears due to delays in Universal Credit payments.
Member Defence & Community Solidarity
Damp, dangerous and unhealthy living conditions, eviction if you dare complain or the landlord wants you out to raise the rent or for no reason at all, repairs not made, deposits and rent stolen; the problems faced by tenants are well known. While fighting for the structural changes we need to tackle these problems on a wider scale, ACORN will not stand by and let our members and communities be victimised and attacked.
Our Member Defence teams use peaceful direct action to confront bailiffs and landlords, stopping evictions and preventing homelessness and winning vital repairs and money owed to our members.
Direct action and solidarity are the lifeblood of our union and up and down the country we’re organising citizen activism on the community level; providing the support that people need to take back control of their lives, tackle their own problems and engage in grassroots community politics.
Bristol – Keep the Council Tax Reduction
In 2017 Bristol City Council announced plans to scrap the Council Tax Reduction benefit and so force the 25,000 poorest households in Bristol to pay council tax.
Faced with a drastically reduced budget due to brutal Conservative cuts, Labour Mayor Marvin Rees proposed to make up the difference with a policy that would have seen those on the lowest incomes have to find on average between £350-600 per year and face aggressive bailiffs and potentially even a jail sentence. This would have led to people prioritising this viciously regressive tax over essentials such as paying their rent and providing for their families.
ACORN mobilised a wave of opposition to the plans, including a mass petition, teams of members door knocking in the most affected areas to build awareness, accountability meetings with local Councillors and more. Members organised within the grassroots of the Labour party to put pressure on the Mayor and Councillors. Having brought several Councillors onside, promising to vote against the Mayor’s proposals members created a briefing document rebuffing all the proposals. Despite a counter-briefing from the Mayor’s office to discredit us, a majority of Labour Councillors came out against the proposals and rather than face a humiliating public revolt the Mayor dropped the plans.
This stands as a major victory that kept £4million in the pockets of those who have been hit hardest by a decade of government cuts. Bristol is now the only major city to retain full CTR; a policy that is now recognised as a flagship success by the administration itself.
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