Councils boycott Cameron's demand to evict rioters
PUBLISHED November 20, 2012
At least 250 people involved in the widespread violence in English cities last summer have been identified as council tenants but have been allowed to keep their homes, the Daily Telegraph has established.
Just one person, from Southwark, south London, has been evicted as a direct result of the riots.
The true number of rioters who kept their homes is likely to be far higher as councils in the worst hit areas - including Brixton and Hackney in London - rejected calls to investigate whether their tenants were involved.
Local authorities argue it would be counter-productive to make already troubled households homeless and unfair to punish an entire family for the wrongdoing of one person.
However MPs say council tax payers may have little patience in seeing those who have broken the law benefit from social housing.
The day after the riots ended, in which five people died and thousands clashed with police, David Cameron said: "For too long we've taken a too soft attitude towards people that loot and pillage their own community. If you do that you should lose your right to the sort of housing that you've had at subsidised rates.
He added: "Obviously, that will mean they've got to be housed somewhere else. They'll have to find housing in the private sector and that will be tougher for them, but they should have thought of that before they started burgling."
Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, said he believed those caught rioting should be "deemed to have wilfully made themselves homeless" and councils had no duty to house them. He added: "That may sound a little harsh, but I don't think this is a time to pussyfoot around."
But Cllr Julian Fulbrook, in charge of housing in Camden, North London accused the Government at the time of "knee-jerk Salem style witch-hunting" and ruled out "jackboot" evictions. Others followed suit.
More than one year on, research by the Daily Telegraph using the Freedom of Information Act has found a total of 252 council tenants across fifteen local authorities had been identified as taking part in the disorder in English cities last August.
Of these, 12 are known to have left their homes. Six surrendered their properties voluntarily and five were already facing eviction for anti-social behaviour, rent arrears or drug offences - meaning only one was evicted as a direct result of the results.
Another 12 cases are still being decided upon.
Four councils - Lewisham, Hackney, Lambeth and Oldham in Greater Manchester - said they made no inquiries into whether their tenants were amongst the rioters and would be evict no-one.
Islington Council identified 25 rioters amongst their tenants, Manchester identified 33, Greenwich identified some 32 and Birmingham identified 26 - but none have so far been evicted.
In Wolverhampton 24 rioters were identified, of whom two left their homes voluntarily while the rest were handed warning notices. In Croydon a total of 40 adults and youths were found among the rioters, of whom three have lost their homes for unrelated criminal activity.
The family of Daniel Sartain-Clarke, 18, who was found guilty and jailed for looting, were handed an eviction notice by Wandsworth council in a high-profile case a week after the rioting. They have since been allowed to stay after assuring the council it would not happen again.
Under housing rules, evictions are granted by judges if councils can show the tenant has caused a "nuisance or annoyance" to their neighbours or if they have committed a crime in the local area.
Stephen Barclay MP, a member of the influential Commons Public Accounts committee, said: "It sends out the wrong message - that those who benefit from social housing can continue to do so even if they burn down a neighbour's property."
"Many law abiding citizens have to wait for a significant time for a council house, and are right to question why those who are not prepared to act lawfully should receive more than they do.
"It is time to say that actions have consequences.
However Ray Jones, Professor of Social Work at Kingston University, said the policy was counterproductive and a result of the Government wanting to be "seen as doing something".
"The response to the riots was overly hasty," he said. "There was a great deal of public panic. On reflection, people have backed off from going down the road of making families homeless, increasingly the likelihood of people reoffending and putting their children at risk."
The Department of Communities and Local Government is now changing the law to get evictions of council tenants through the courts quicker, a spokesman said.