Jury’s out on eviction talk

I was interested to read that my former local council in Bury has become the latest landlord to promise to evict any tenant found guilty of offences connected with the riots last week.

This follows similar pledges from councils in Wandsworth, Manchester, Salford, Nottingham and others in the days following the disturbances, which have seen more than 1,500 arrests in a little over a week.  

The calls seem to chime with popular sentiment, with more than 100,000 people having signed a petition calling for rioters to lose their benefits. This e-petition has been referred to a parliamentary committee, which will decide if the idea will be debated in the House of Commons by MPs.

I’m not alone in being appalled by what happened in the riots, and wishing for swift justice to be dealt to those found guilty of criminal acts.

But I was taken by the eviction pledges because I’m aware of what’s involved to secure such outcomes, in terms of effort and cost. It struck me that the complexity of the process, and the impact it could have on people who were not rioting, was being overlooked in the media’s need for a quick headline and the ability of councils to provide it.

This is laid bare in a fantastic article by Channel 4’s FactCheck blog, which asks whether councils can deliver the tough promises that some are making.

It seems in Bury’s case that the fact the area did not suffer any trouble may make it difficult for the council to evict anyone for rioting in Manchester and Salford, as the blog states:

“The councils’ power is limited; they only have powers over those that live locally – so for example people from Manchester can’t be evicted from social housing if they committed anti-social behaviour in Salford.

“This is a huge roadblock when you consider that of the rioters charged so far, just 23 per cent committed crimes in their own postcode, according to profiles of those due to appear at Camberwell Green Magistrates’ Court.”

It goes on:

“Councils have always had the power to threaten people with eviction, but they have never had the power to make it happen. That power lies with the courts.

“The public wants to see swift and robust action from the Government, but evicting people from social housing is a lengthy, costly solution to anti-social behaviour.

“What’s more, with few rioters caught out in their own Local Authority, the vow to  ‘convict and evict’ will be difficult to uphold.”

I’ll be keen to see how councils progresses with the promises they have made. I’d also like to hear some different opinions expressed from the housing sector on how the issues highlighted by the riots can be tackled in a less sensational, but effective, way.