The Counihan-Sanchez Family Housing Campaign

mark at mark at
Tue May 28 12:43:11 BST 2013

In the situation of systemic economic maldistribution of public 
subsidy to large landowners through the Common Agricultural Policy as 
exploited by the UK’s pattern of large land concentration by a small 
proportion of the country’s population (6000 or so who own 
approximately 40 million acres), plus the recent revelation that the 
Queen is to get a £5m pay rise from taxpayer (due mainly to a rise in 
the profits of the Crown Estate which under new rules as part of a new 
system called the ‘Sovereign Fund, the Head of State gets to keep 15% 

The Queen’s generous setttlement to cover annual costs of £36.1 
million comes in a middle of massive public cuts. Some 660,000 people 
dependent on social housing because of low incomes will lose, on 
average, over 700 pounds per year through the introduction of 'bedroom 
tax' - a cut to government-funded support payments, should the 
occupant of a house have a 'spare' room. Also, a minimum council tax 
payment will has additionally been broadly imposed, negatively 
affecting those on low incomes too.

To highlight the polar opposite of this, I draw attention to the 
campaign to defend the housing rights of the Counihan family in NW 
London. Within their case the issue of landownership is also of 
relevance. However, unlike the priviledged large-landowning class, the 
mere act of coming into possession of a small plot of land has meant 
they have been penalised in the most austere and shocking manner for 
the simple act of merely having inherited a 9.5 acres in another EU 
country (Ireland).

Anthony Counihan, a bus driver in Cricklewood who with his family of 
seven with children ranging from four to fifteen years old were living 
in council housing in Brent for many years, returned to Ireland in 
2007 to care for his sick father.  Upon returning to England in August 
2008, they were told that they could not be housed by the Brent 
Council and that they should have sublet their property for a year, 
while they were gone. They later found out that the Brent Council 
could keep their secure tenancy for up to a year. The family had to 
seek housing in the private sector, and Brent Council found them a 
4-bedroomed house costing £690 a week in March 2009 (in 2011-12, the 
average rent for private accommodation in London was £1,202, which was 
3 times higher than the rent for council housing in London, (£386.40) 
; futhremore, the cost of rent in the private sector has gone up 37% 
in the past 5 years). The family were advised to claim housing 
benefit, because Mr Counihan’s weekly wage didn’t even cover their 

To make matters worse, however, in 2010 after they declared a plot of 
land (inherited by Mr Counihan from his late father in Ireland which 
was earning them £18 a week in rent) and in an income review 
assessment meanstest, their effective rent (the share of rent they had 
to pay minus housing benefit) went up from £144 to £229 a week because 
their housing benefit was reduced. Furthermore, however, after a 
benefit review, in January 2012 they were informed that taking into 
consideration the ‘capital value’ of the land asset they possessed (a 
field of low agricultural productivity in the west of Ireland), they 
were informed that their benefit was not going to be reinstated plus 
they were incredibly given a bill for overpaid benefit backdated, 
which came to a staggering £76,000!!! On April 27th 2012, they were 
served with eviction papers to leave their property by Brent council. 
They were also told too late that if they marketed the land, their 
housing benefits would have continued for six months and they would 
not have been made homeless.

They were issued with an eviction notice for 13 August 2012, which was 
halted by court action.

The family approached their local MP Glenda Jackson but were given 
awful advice, with Ms Jackson advising them that they should go to 
Wales, and then the housing advice officer Rose McIntosh seriously 
proposed that Anthony, Isabel and the family move to the field that 
they inherited in Ireland and live in a caravan. She suggested that 
Anthony should not give up his job as a bus driver in Cricklewood as 
jobs were hard to get these days but he could “commute” (from 
Peterswell in Galway to London!). Isabel Counihan–Sanchez was 
reportedly traumatised and suicidal after the interview with Rose 

Well now the family have put the land up for sale on the Council’s 
urgings despite the fact that the council initially told them that 
doing so could constitute fraud because they would be “disposing of an 
asset to get a means-tested benefit”.
Interview with Isabel Counihan–Sanchez here:

In November 2012,  the Counihan family received some postive news when 
they were informed that they were having their housing benefit 
reinstated in November 2012. However, the family have had to continue 
resisting eviction and another eviction notice for served for 
yesturday – Monday 27th May 2013. Supporters rallied in their defence, 
holding a street party outside their house:

Leaflet about the campaign available here:

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