This post looks at WHY and HOW every bedroom tax affected household should challenge their local council’s bedroom tax decision. It also explains using Liverpool City Council figures to illustrate the absolute pandemonium this will cause.
What do I mean by challenge?
Some tenants have received letters from their landlords to say the bedroom tax may apply to them. Any such letter is simply a letter and for the bedroom tax to apply to any tenant your will receive a formal letter from the council HB department – a Notice – with regard to the bedroom tax decision.
When a decision is taken by the Housing Benefit department that the bedroom tax applies you will receive a “Benefit Decision Notice” (BDN) and this by comparison is a legal letter – a Notice. Even if your landlord is the council they will need to send you a formal letter from the Housing Benefit department.
The BDN will say how you can appeal the decision, which is a right, and I copy below what HB decision letters from Liverpool City Council say and wherever you live this will be very similar. It says: -
“If you want to know more about this decision or think it is wrong, you must tell us within one month of this letter or we may not be able to help.
You can either:
- Ask for an explanation
- Ask us to look again at the decision
- Appeal against the decision – this can only be in writing. If you appeal against the decision an independent tribunal administered by the Tribunal Service will hear your appeal.”
In short – ‘explain’, ‘look again’ and ‘appeal’ are your basic options. Any or all of these 3 options form the challenge. You can write asking for the council to send a more detailed explanation to you which you can then consider with a view to issuing a later appeal within the month or asking the council to look again after they have sent you the more detailed explanation.
Why this will create pandemonium?
1. The scale
- Liverpool has 5 parliamentary constituencies which form the City Council local authority area which issues Housing Benefit decisions.
- The National Housing Federation issued a breakdown of bedroom tax affected households by parliamentary constituency.
- As such we know that Liverpool City Council (LCC) has 12,649 bedroom tax affected households in these 5 constituencies.
- Therefore LCC would need to consider 12,649 bedroom tax ‘challenges’ if everyone challenged
- UPDATE (see comments) For the avoidance of doubt Liverpool has 43,460 social tenants claiming HB at latest figures. The 12,649 is the number of those affected by the bedroom tax.
2. What does each ‘challenge’ involve?
- The DWP (purported) impact assessment gives an estimate of each ‘appeal’ as a monetary cost of £200 to the council.
- This gives a cost to LCC of 12,649 x £200 if we accept this extremely low DWP estimate of cost and a cost to LCC of £2,529,800 at face value.
- Yet just as the tenant has a month to issue an ‘appeal’ or other form of challenge then LCC will need a policy of how long they will take to respond – probably a month as well – to explain, reconsider or refer to appeal at Tribunal.
3. Unpicking the LCC response needed
- If we assess each hour of LA time at £25 or so – which is what a few years back the government advised as a cost per hour for councils to use for processing Freedom of Information requests - then the £200 cost of an ‘appeal’ or challenge (the DWP figure) broadly equates to 8 hours of LCC staff time per appeal or challenge
- The total staff time needed to consider 12,649 challenges becomes 12,649 x 8 hours – a total staffing time of 101,192 hours!!
- 101,192 hours is one month’s staff time of 160 hours for approximately 632 full-time workers!
So Liverpool City Council would need 632 staff solely dealing with bedroom tax challenges.
That assumes they need to do this in one month. It further assumes that 8 hours of staff time per appeal or challenge is sufficient as per the DWP estimate. If further assumes each appeal or challenge is looked at by only 1 member of staff and doesn’t need 2 for example.
Even if they took a year to respond to each challenge this means 53 full-time staff!!
It further assumes LCC could find 632 or even 53 HB trained staff and LCC would be competing locally with Wirral, Sefton, St Helens, Knowsley, Cheshire West and Chester, and countless other LAs in a commutable area for these ethereal HB trained staff too
Of course every other council would be in the same boat of searching for HB trained staff. So this is impossible unless IDS can wave a magic wand and produce trained HB decision-making staff out of the ether.
It assumes LCC has budgeted for the cost of 632 HB trained staff and has a spare £2.5m plus recruitment cost or more likely much higher agency costs. Will existing trained HB staff need to be paid more to retain their services? Yes so there’s huge additional costs to the public purse involved here isn’t there reader?
I don’t need to continue at all with this as it is patently obvious that the entire bedroom tax system would come crashing to its knees.
Put simply, if you want to put a figurative bomb underneath the bedroom tax and force the coalition to rethink, and rethink bloody quickly, as they will be heavily pressured from EVERY local authority to do something, then every bedroom tax affected household should exercise their right to challenge their bedroom tax decision does precisely that!
Social landlords would be adversely affected as well. Their pre-existing arrears cases would likely see the tenant saying they are awaiting a decision or payment from HB, but this is taking forever as the system is clogged up with bedroom tax appeals and HB are way behind dealing with their normal workload! The district judge will likely adjourn and more arrears accrue on the rent account until HB decide. The judiciary itself will be concerned over this and also when a huge increased number of formal appeals is sent to tribunals. Will these need to be sitting 24 hours a day like magistrates courts did during the riots? More public purse costs anyone?
So the government would also have social landlords and the judiciary lobbying hard with all the councils too and all of a sudden all of the actors (councils, landlords, tenants and the judiciary) on one side and all lobbying the coalition. Remember this is an absolute right of appeal or challenge to a HB decision and perfectly lawful. The government would have little option but to think again and very quickly.
There you have a lawful plan to rid the pernicious bedroom tax and quickly. All it needs is a small effort and free contribution from some experts well versed in drafting arguments and experience of the HB appeals system – a couple of hours each would do it wouldn’t it?
One wonders why social landlords and particularly their lobby groups such as the CIH and NHF and others who, after all, are paid handsomely by their members the same social landlords to lobby on their behalf, hadn’t thought of this simple idea!
Anyone would think that social landlords wouldn’t benefit from transferring back to government the £500m per year financial risk of arrears this government imposed on them with the bedroom tax.
Let’s be clear that is what the bedroom tax policy is a massive transfer of financial risk to social landlords and a thinly veiled attack on social housing – and why hasn’t the CIH or NHF or other sector lobby shouted that from the rooftops? Just another tale of incompetency of the housing response to the bedroom tax anyone? Yes just like a worker in private housing needs £6,000 more in gross salary than a social housing tenant for the same job in order to pay the average £80 per week cost of private rent? No that argument has never been put out either by the social housing sector either! No argument that this means high private rents are a barrier to the take up of employment compared with social housing. No argument that the taxpayer gives £1bn or so more in subsidy per year to private landlords than it gives n total to social landlord through this HB added beneft cost to privately rented housing either.
Anyone see an argument that the bedroom tax called the ‘spare room subsidy’ by the coalition should be called the ‘cost of room subsidy?’
Yes you’ve guessed the wonderful social landlord not put that argument out ther either…and as there are more spare rooms in privately rented housing than in social housing…oh don’t get me started!
NHF figures on numbers of bedroom tax households here by constituency
DWP estimate of appeals here and section 54 says:
“…if 20,000 claimants chose to appeal the decision made on their Housing Benefit entitlement, DWP estimates the additional administration cost associated with these appeals would be approximately £4m.”
Sample letters of challenge that all 660,000 tenants can use are needed. So come on people get circulating good quality sample letters of challenge and appeal and let’s get rid of this nasty pernicious drawn-up on the back of a fag packet bedroom tax policy.
Let’s each donate 2 hours of time and so every bedroom tax affected household can easily challenge its council for the cost of a first class stamp by simply cutting and pasting into their letter of challenge?
Isn’t the tenants lot stressful enough without having to trawl through the HB Regulations to see that, for example:
- every council needs a policy to include where and when they refer a registered social landlord HB case to the Rent Officer; or
- that this is standard practice for private housing yet the landlord is simply believed for social tenancies and as HB departments are ‘guardians of the public purse’ why do they discriminate against the social tenant here?
- If a bedroom is what a social landlord says but not what a private landlord says cannot be fair can it?
- Is that a blanket policy by HB departments, an unlawful fettering or restraint is the status quo!
- Does the council have a policy on referring unsuitably large social housing accommodation to the Rent Officer?
- What information was sent by the landlord to the HB department for HB to assess the bedroom tax? Did this include unnecessary information outside of any protocol between HB and the social landlord?
- How does the HB department determine what is a bedroom? Is it just the acceptance of the social landlords word and what is the written policy where a claimant disputes that view?
How many separate challenges are there in that off the top of my head far from inclusive challenge list?
Courtesy of Joe Halewood of SPeye