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ACORN: Housing Activists Move Into NatWest

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Housing activists "moved in" to a Sheffield branch of NatWest on Saturday to protest against a discriminatory clause in the bank's buy-to-let mortgage contracts which forces landlords to evict benefit recipients from their homes.

Around 30 members of the renters' union ACORN carried a Henry hoover, a Christmas tree and a framed oil painting into the bank's High Street branch as part of a coordinated nationwide action.

"If a landlord has a mortgage with NatWest they contractually cannot rent out properties to people on benefits," ACORN Sheffield chair Rafaella Lima told Now Then. "We think that's a form of discrimination and we think it's adding to the homelessness problem.

"Today's action is across the country. Here in Sheffield our deal was, 'OK, if they're forcing people to move out then we're going to move in', so we moved into the branch. We brought our boxes, our plants and our rugs. We had a bit of fun and we spread the word."

Part of the state-controlled RBS group, NatWests policy prohibits landlords who own less than ten properties from letting to tenants in receipt of housing benefit.

The activists peacefully occupied the bank for 20 minutes, singing "Boom boom boom boom, I want to rent a room, but NatWest wouldn't let me, they'd rather leave homes empty," to the tune of The Vengaboys.

ACORN branches in Brighton, Glasgow, Manchester and many other large cities held their own demonstrations.

In October The Guardian reported the case of landlord Helena McAleer, who was told that she would have to evict a vulnerable older woman from her Belfast home when McAleer approached NatWest for additional borrowing.

In recent years the Sheffield branch of ACORN has taken direct action against bad landlords, often physically surrounding properties to prevent unfair evictions taking place. They were also instrumental in getting a selective licensing scheme approved in the London Road area, which requires landlords to pass health and safety inspections before theyre allowed to let out properties.

The group are now campaigning for the scheme to be expanded to cover the whole city, after the council's own report found that 74% of properties assessed in the London Road area contained "multiple high risk hazards which exposed tenants to serious harm."

Sam Gregory

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