Bedroom Tax lessons for social (sic) housing

No ‘story’ dear fellow housing professional.  Instead take two facts and see the wood from the trees?

  • Fact 1 – Building more social housing properties, that we all know and admit right across the political spectrum is needed, is NOT on any party agenda as a General Election voter issue.
  • Fact 2 – The bedroom tax sees every party, apart from Tories, saying it should go because it is an issue that IS on the agenda as a GE vote winner.

Let those two facts sink in. Then do what you delude yourself you have done and think! Fact 1 is about housing in its bricks and mortar sense; Fact 2 is about people – that ‘social’ bit the deluded housing professional always prefixes the term housing with for some reason.

Ever stopped to think why the word ‘social’ comes before the word ‘housing?’  Then again that’s part rhetorical part otiose as prior to welfare reforms (sic, sic and double sic) the landlord has never HAD to know its tenant so the behavioural nudge theory central to them (downsize, take in a lodger etc) are all revolutionary back of a fag packet nuances to the we have always done it this way social (sic) landlord. How the hell are we supposed to know what the tenant will do if we have no idea of who or what the tenant is or does.  We’ve never had to know that before…despite calling them customers…ahem!!

Or, as is your want, go off to a darkened room making sure you head butt the padded wall you built 30 years ago and repeat your mantra, why don’t the public see we need social housing, why don’t the public see we need social housing.

Conversely for just £9.99 per month(P&P free) I will send you my revolutionary HousingRealityPills each and every month from that world class brand STBO, a tried and tested age old cure from the greatest company of all in Stating The Bloody Obvious inc. Each 30-day pack contains soluble tablets to be taken shortly after waking and you inhale the vapours of this unique blend of arabica and ammonium carbonate and nothing more.

The bedroom tax is perhaps the ONLY issue that the electorate know about social housing. Social housing per se is not and never can be a story that is worthy to be an electoral issue. The voter knows bugger all about social housing except that White Dee lives there.  They know bugger all about social housing because no one has ever told them.  Social housing never has promoted itself.  When it does, it comes up with HomesforBritain at the same time that Farage creates immigration hysteria as THE political issue – and then has the strapline let’s solve the housing crisis within a generation.  The voter has a 25 – 33 second attention span not one of 25 – 33 years.

Hope that wall in the darkened room is well padded!

So why has the bedroom tax as the one and only social housing issue become a voter issue? It’s wrong, its immoral, its unfair and while nobody bats an eyelid if White Dee is affected it also affects Mr and Mrs Brown down the road and they’re good people who raised three lovely kids and did everything expected of a normal family and is now being taxed for the massive stroke he had from overwork. Such a shame as he was a lovely man who would always say good morning to you and now his poor wife, lovely woman too, has to look after him 24/7 and gets no help at all poor woman.  That reminds me, I’ll go get some cakes and drop in after work, have a natter with her and give her a little break. Better to just drop in, the Hello, just passing Mrs Brown type of thing, as if I ring ahead her pride will make some excuse.

The bedroom tax has human interest, social housing has not as social housing is where White Dee lives according to the voter…as does Mrs Brown,a nice house she has worked hard to keep despite it being a social housing property rented from the housing association, formerly the council.  The money they have ploughed into that house too and now they have to pay an extra £25 per week all because that kind and all to rare these days gentleman Mr Brown, fell ill through overwork.

The voter sees White Dee as the epitome of the social tenant not Mr & Mrs Brown down the road although they all know a Mrs & Mrs Brown.  They do so because the great and the good of social housing have allowed them to have that White Dee perception through (a) inaction and the lack of promotion / marketing / branding / awareness raising of the social housing model on a proactive basis, and (b) a lack of reactive challenge to the stereotypical White Dee figure that politicians and the media love to portray.

Oh its all the fault of the coalition blame game and poverty porn then?  No.

Social housing’s great and good failed to see the cultural and reputational dynamic of Right to Buy.  That has seen a generation of padded walls being head butted by the great and good of housing over reducing stock and no replacement;  and they did NOT see that the ‘property owning democracy’ cultural and reputational issue of merely renting makes you a second-class citizen with second-class aspirations and a second-class mentality, is just as bad if not worse.

30 years and more of inaction on that only interspersed every four year or so with THIS election is when housing will be a real issue. This time next year we’ll be millionaires Rodney!

Last week Tony Stacey, the influential head of Placeshapers said don’t assume the Labour Party are a friend of social housing.  Inside Housing published this as news.  That would be the same Labour party run by Ed Miliband who said three years ago that Labour got it wrong and Thatcher got it right with Right to Buy in his conference speech in Liverpool.

Now there are hard lessons here for my party which some won’t like. Some of what happened in the 1980s was right. It was right to let people buy their council houses.

I said this months before the infamous Miliband speech above and it wasn’t revelatory then. The Labour party has not supported social housing for decades yet the deluded social housing professional errantly sees some historic ethereal link with social housing and the Labour Party, and in that sense, an influential figure actually saying that in public WAS news. Yet this time lag all too typifies the speed at which social housing moves!

Oh did I say there is a free limited edition t-shirt for the first 1000 housing subscribers the SBTO  HousingRealityPills offer? Highly sought after too

housing strategist

The chalk writing offset to the left is subtly ironic reflecting the political leanings and the puerile mentality of the housing professional with the Tate Gallery showing a high level of interest.

Seriously, the (alleged) social housing campaigns, all of them, have a great deal to learn from the bedroom tax campaign.  The bedroom tax campaign has clear and simple messages.  It is directed at government and the general public who shortly will be voting on it.  Let’s solve the housing crisis in a generation is not a slogan to capture the imagination of the voter!  Neither is “I love housing because…” and social housing will yet again NOT be an electoral issue. Nether is Shout if you haven’t a clue what message to shout and to whom to shout it to.

It’s also time, long overdue in fact, you stopped deflecting criticism and took off the Teflon suits you wear.  It’s just not feasible you just keep on telling me its my fault I don’t come up with a solution and just moan all the time…yes moan and rant …you know just as you all have done for the last 30 years and more on a collective internalised basis and then you will probably moan some more when I say how about a sitcom with the del(boy)usional genre of comedy so beloved and so British though like all its needs a snappy title…… such as Only fools and houses!



Quick note for all the Dave’s and Trigger’s out there….arabica (coffee) and ammonium carbonate (smelling salts) – wake up and smell the coffee!

Womens Aid vanity project shafts the bedroom tax appeal for everyone else?

A court is not the place foe emotive argument and especially when that type of argument is a high risk vanity project for 0.06% of those affected by the bedroom tax and severely damages the chances of the remaining 99.4% of challenging the pernicious bedroom tax – No wonder IDS was laughing in Parliament when this case of a violence and abuse survivor hit with the bedroom tax on a panic room was raised there this week.

Many may find it surprising that I argue it was a travesty this case went to court and it should never have gone to judicial review – the fact it did explains why IDS was smiling as he must have known what a great decision to take it was FOR HIM!

Wednesday 18 November a judicial review took place over whether a panic room for a survivor of domestic violence and abuse should be deemed a bedroom for bedroom tax purposes.

It should never have gone ahead.

It was extremely risky and damaging to the challenge against the bedroom tax and the lawyers and Womens Aid who took it should both be ashamed of themselves.

It could and I believe will be catastrophically damaging to bedroom tax appeals for everyone else


A panic room is a room physically strengthened and a former bedroom which became a panic room as part of a sanctuary scheme.  Such rooms are converted at huge cost and there is no contention that such a room is necessary.  The only contention is should the bedroom tax be levied on such a room.


There are two ways to argue that it should not have the bedroom tax imposed:

  1. A panic room is not a bedroom, or
  2. The tenant has a human right to a family which includes a right to a panic room

Challenges to the bedroom tax has also come in 2 main forms – the appeal at a tribunal at which (1) above would be the way to argue; or the judicial review route at which (2) was presumably argued in terms of discrimination.

Comment & Discussion

I don’t know whether the principal argument was (1) or (2) were argued or both. Yet reading the PR put out by the lawyers and by Womens Aid and given how all other bedroom tax JRs have been argued (and all lost) I assume the principal argument was the typical JR argument at (2) – that the policy is against the right to a family life and estimated 281 bedroom tax households with panic rooms suffer because of the crudeness of and discrimination within the policy itself.

The bedroom tax has seen JRs taken on such generic discrimination in the case of MA & Ors which lost at the High Court and lost again at the Court of Appeal with both these senior courts ruling the policy was discriminatory yet ‘justified’ by the availability of Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP).

Yet the bedroom tax has seen many successful cases by comparison on room usage and purpose – or a panic room is not a bedroom its a panic room stupid!!  That is what it is used for, it is critically, a reasonable alternate use of a room which could be a bedroom, it has not been used as a bedroom and a number of other arguments.

These room usage routes have proved successful and nothing is more evidence of that than the Carmichael case.

The Carmichaels were one of ten cases taken in MA & Ors which lost as the JR was argued on a generic basis – that discrimination applied to all disabled cases.  However, after losing at the High Court and Court of Appeal the Carmichaels case came before a bedroom tax First-tier Tribunal …and won.

The Carmichael case won even after the CoA handed down its judgment and the lowly FtT went against the far far higher CoA decision – as it was based on the individual facts of the individual case unlike the generic JR case.

That ruling sent immediate shockwaves through the legal ‘community’ as how stupid the FtT must be to go against the Court of Appeal.  Yet it then emerged that the Carmichael FtT argument was individual not generic and that argument was formulated by a barrister.  Oh what a clever barrister (correct) and what a brave (and also correct) lowly FtT judge then became the legal community view.

In short the legal community now realise that the best chance of winning a bedroom tax case is not the JR route, the discrimination argument route (2) but the tribunal argument (1) route and in this case a panic room is not a bedroom.  However, lawyers do not get paid for taking cases to the tribunal and so very rarely go there.  The lawyers know this and took the case for the money and in this case Womens Aid – in what is either incompetence or ignorance – were funding.  I can see the prestige that legal firm will get from winning a JR case and the resulting additional work and kudos it will bring, yet it does not give “A” the best chance of winning her case.

The estimate is that there are 281 women in panic rooms hit by the bedroom tax or about 0.06% of all bedroom tax cases and that is significant in terms of the success of this particular case at 281 cases in more than 340 local councils means less than one case per council. Surely the DHP system can ameliorate such injustices and discrimination be being less than 1 case per council will be uppermost in the minds of the High Court!

Should the JR fail, and if the legal argument is on discrimination and ECHR derived rights then it has a high chance of failure given the MA & Ors position of the senior courts saying a DHP justifies that discrimination, then no exemption will be granted for survivors of violence and abuse who have a panic room.

Yet if it does fail that has horrific consequences for bedroom tax appeals on room usage and purpose, past current and future cases.  In short if a panic room – which is an undeniably reasonable and unavoidable alternate use of a former bedroom – is a bedroom then it means in effect that once a bedroom always a bedroom for bedroom tax purposes.  Even if a former bedroom is converted to a walk-in bathroom or any other obvious reasonable alternate use it is still a bedroom for bedroom tax purposes.

The arrogance of the lawyers and Womens Aid in seeking to exempt 281 cases or 0.06% of all cases could result in 100% of cases of appeal on a reasonable alternate room usage being negated and denied – That is the extent of the incompetence and vanity in this case going to Judicial Review.

The lawyers know that the clients best chance of getting out of the bedroom tax imposition would be to challenge it at a tribunal.  That route has a far greater success rate than JR and that route is very much in the best interests of the individual client – tenant “A”

If Womens Aid had thought for a second, they would realise that far more than 281 survivors of violence and abuse could overturn the bedroom tax imposition at a tribunal appeal on grounds of alternate reasonable use of a former bedroom alone.  Even looking after their own narrow interests of domestic violence and abuse and not giving a damn about all other bedroom tax households Womens Aid could have helped far more survivors by advocating the tribunal appeal route.  Yet they clearly never thought.

I have advocated the tribunal appeal route from day one and even before the bedroom tax began.  I have become ‘associated’ with the bedroom tax appeal.  I put my professional reputation on the line by advocating the appeal route and it has been successful, very successful despite the fact there are very few who can take appeals for the bedroom tax tenant.  I reported here how a few grass roots groups I have worked with have success rates of 70% and more – figures any legal firm would die for and far higher than any JR figures any legal firm has. My own success rate is even higher on cases taken personally and the key is to argue in a written submission what is a bedroom by way of fact and in terms of size, usage or any other aspect which has a far higher chance than discrimination arguments.

A panic room is simply NOT a bedroom and that line of argument at tribunal would see the vast majority if not all tribunals come to that view.  Any room and former bedroom which has such a reasonable and necessary alternate use, a room agreed to be necessary by all of those involved in DV Fora including the Police, landlord and Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all while never being a shoe-in nevertheless has a huge chance of success for those reasons.  Housing law has long held precedents on the fact a rooms purpose can change during the currency of a tenancy.  Even HB regulations allow for and include as necessary a change in circumstances and a bedroom being converted out of necessity to a panic room is an obvious change in circumstances.

A panic room is simply not a bedroom for bedroom tax purposes – as if it is then a wheel-in bathroom conversion for a wheelchair bound tenant must be a bedroom also and that is patently ridiculous and false and a legal fiction.

Yet IF the JR fails the consequences for all bedroom tax appeals at tribunal on grounds of room usage, reasonable necessary alternate usage will see FtT judges hide behind such a ruling and say they are bound by it, which they are not but will undoubtedly happen.  Additionally the many bedroom tax appeal wins on usage grounds have inspired more tenants to appeal, as they should.  Yet the JR failing here will severely dampen that enthusiasm and bring a huge smile to the face of Iain Duncan Smith.

IF this JR, which should never have been taken in the first place, fails, then the impact on the successful bedroom tax tribunal appeal route is a seriously negative one.  I have huge scorn and anger for the lawyers and for Womens Aid in taking this JR route which is and always has been a risk too far.

281 cases they claim lets make a statement!  Yet the vanity pioneers never foresaw that in this reckless JR.

Should I have a go at the landlord who must have said this property had one more ‘bedroom’ than the reality and have a go at the council for believing this nonsense?  Yes of course but that same charade or sham of a decision making process goes for all current 471,887 bedroom tax decisions of which 99.4% do not concern a panic room.

I so hope I am wrong on how this case was argued and not for my sake but for the 99.4% of households or about 1.05 million men women and children have been shafted by the sham bedroom tax decisions.  I truly hope that the lawyers argued strongly as one FtT judge in Newcastle decided a few weeks ago that the council has a statutory duty under HB regulation B(13)(2) to determine what the term ‘bedroom’ is and means BEFORE they impose the bedroom tax deduction – a view I first raised in January 2013 and ahead of the bedroom tax coming into operation. That is a perfectly valid JR argument as anyone who has ever read the statutory instrument which enacted the bedroom tax can readily see:

Regulation B13 makes provision for the calculation of the maximum rent (social sector). The local authority must determine how many bedrooms are necessary for the claimant’s household, in accordance with the criteria set out in paragraph (5), and how many bedrooms the claimant has. The local authority must then determine the claimant’s limited rent.

That verbatim extract from the explanatory note to Si 3040 of 2012 makes it clear that the local authority, the benefit authority to be exact, must (ie a statutory duty)  consider and determine what a bedroom is before they then impose the bedroom tax.  That is the clear will and intention of the legislation.  No local authority could decide reasonably that a panic room is a bedroom. It is a panic room.  Yet while being a JR type argument it is perfectly valid, and so much cheaper, and so more likely to be successful if argued at a bedroom tax tribunal than at the High Court in a JR.

That route is better for the poor tenant who has had the bedroom tax imposed and whose needs have to have priority. It also must be better for the public purse, better for Womens Aid, it is better for all survivors of violence and abuse, it is better for all those who thankfully haven’t suffered violence and abuse…it is better for everyone.

The only benefit of this JR should it succeed is for the professionally vanity and PR of Womens Aid and its Chief Executive.  It is highly risky and with little reward even should it succeed.  If WAFE had put as much effort, thought and presumably resources into supporting survivors of violence and abuse to appeal the bedroom tax by the tribunal route then far more survivors would escape the bedroom tax than this flight of fancy ever could.

The fact this flight of fancy could, and regrettably I believe will fail if argued on discrimination grounds, means that thousands upon thousands more vulnerable people will find tribunal judges denying their reasonable alternate usage of a room that councils have lazily and expediently deemed to be a bedroom and imposed the bedroom tax upon.

A court is no place for emotive argument even when its particular acts involve domestic violence and abuse which by definition is a hugely emotive issue. That may be explanation for why this damaging and highly risky vanity project went ahead but it no excuse why it did. The fact it likely will damage the chance of thousands of other tenants who have had the pernicious bedroom tax imposed who legitimately appeal on a wide range of reasonable alternate room usage grounds is offensive.

I could be wrong and the High Court hand down a judgment which says unequivocally that a panic room is a reasonable use of a room that could be or was a former bedroom and provide a huge fillip for bedroom tax tribunal appeals on room use grounds.  Yet past cases such as MA & Ors said that DHP justify discrimination against 420,000 disabled tenants then they must surely follow that in this case with less than 1 case per council of violence and abuse survivors with a panic room.

In Orr of social housing’s professional suicide…not!

The minimum amount the law says you need to live on is….” A phrase familiar to any social tenant receiving any level of welfare benefit.  Yet now your social landlord has lobbied to allow Iain Duncan Smith to take up £80 per week out of your welfare benefits at source to give to your landlord if you have rent arrears, which you will inevitably have as UC ensures.

Prepare to starve, get cold and ill, fall prey to loan sharks, prepare to die a cruel death in penury!


Anger and other emotions aside let’s have a look objectively at what has happened here and it is all to do with Universal Credit (UC)

Two elements of UC are the payment of all welfare benefits and what is now housing benefit in one monthly payment – known as monthly payment - and all of that being paid direct to the tenant – known as direct payment.

This involves 2 major changes for the social tenant as (a) they have to budget on a monthly basis not a weekly or fortnightly basis as now, and (b) they become full responsible for the payment of rent as the HB now goes to them and not direct to the landlord.

The rationale of IDS and DWP here is in work you get paid monthly so the social tenant needs to learn to handle money on a monthly basis; and for direct payment of HB this is what happens in real life so you need to be taught to be more responsible for paying rent

Social landlords were aghast at this direct payment of HB to the tenant.  They knew this would lead to more arrears which is inevitable.  So social landlords began to lobby IDS and DWP to change direct payment and produced research after research which said that social tenants did not want HB paid directly to them and that the social tenant should have the choice to have HB paid direct to the landlord as now.

IDS said no chance.  Direct payment is a lifeskill that the social tenant needs to learn.

Social landlords and their lobbies – and it appears the National Housing Federation led on this – came back and sought a compromise.  IDS was told the DWP needed to include an alternative payment arrangement “IF” the social tenant fell into arrears.  The NHF and DWP agree and “IF” the tenant fell 4 weeks or more in arrears then the HB would be paid direct to the landlord and, at that time, an undecided amount would be paid direct to the landlord from the tenants other welfare benefits directly to the landlord to pay for rent arrears.

Three things at this point.

  • The first is that the normal and typical amount a court says is the maximum to be deducted and all the tenant can afford out of other benefits towards arrears is £3.65 per week.
  • The second is that social landlords were correctly worried about arrears increasing sharply and were right to seek to challenge this and find a solution.  The fact the DWP accepted this argument shows its validity.
  • Yet the third is that social landlords and DWP knew that the way Universal Credit begins is for all social tenants to have NO benefit income for 5 weeks meaning that the UC system was set up to see ALL tenants go more than 4 weeks in arrears – the trigger point for HB to be paid direct to landlords which is what they wanted, but also the trigger point for DWP to TAKE CONTROL of arrears and deduct arrears payments directly from the tenants benefit and pay this to the landlord


Lord Freud, the welfare minister, then announced that the DWP deductions from tenant benefits would be between 10% and 20%.  The shit hit the fan and suddenly social landlords realised what an almighty unbelievably stupid mistake they had made.

The social landlords had given DWP control over rent arrears.  Rent arrears – or getting the money in is something that always needs to be in control of those selling goods and services regardless of what business you are in.  YET the unbelievably stupid and incompetent social landlords, led by the NHF, have given control of their income, or up to two thirds of it, to Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP!!!!

Social landlords have just cut their own throats in the most reckless piece of incompetence business decision making they could ever have done – and of course shafted the hell out of “their” tenants into the bargain!

Social landlords were fixated on getting HB paid to them by whatever means and in doing so they have well and truly fucked themselves and their tenants by giving control of arrears payments to the DWP.

The social landlord lobby which IH tells us was led by the NHF has gave IDS carte blanche over tenant arrears payments that could be as much as 20% of other benefits and that could be £80 per week or TWENTY TWO TIMES what a judge would award.

Can you imagine a few months after this comes in what IDS will be saying?  Try this -

My department has been forced to pay to inept social landlords £20 million pounds in arrears payments that their feckless workshy Jeremy Kyle watching lifestyle choice tenants refused to pay despite the generous hard working taxpayer giving them this money for free to sit on their arses and watch Jeremy Kyle behind closed curtains on their taxpayer paid for 60″ flat screen TV.

Ok you get the picture.  The social tenant will be pilloried and blamed even more than now and all due to the incompetence of social landlords who will soon see Joe Public’s perception of ALL social tenants as White Dee as some form of wistful nostalgia!!!

You beginning to see just how truly incompetent this lobbying was and how truly f**king incompetent social landlord lobbies are?

Well that’s just part of how truly f**king incompetent this is as not only have the nat Fed of behalf of all social landlords given away control of arrears payment they have also ensured that they cannot afford to use this alternate payment system for arrears.  It is far too risky an operation for if the DWP deduct 10% – 20% of tenant benefits, that tenant and also the landlord is well and truly up to their eyes in the brown smelly stuff.

Of course what we WILL see is social landlords use this sparingly – and for sparingly read only for those tenants they want rid of whether they want rid of them for arrears, anti social behaviour or just because they don’t like the cut of their gib.  Yes dear reader social housings very own ‘retaliatory eviction’ process so demonised in the private rented sector by social landlords!!!

That, along with the huge increase in tenants abandoning their properties to avoid direct deductions at source – yes this on the fly policy decision by Freud has never had any parliamentary scrutiny coming over two years after the passing of the Welfare Reform Act – does not include a facility for former tenant arrears to be deducted at source.  So when the tenant abandons, their arrears become former tenant arrears, and the truly incompetent social landlords failed to see this too in their sell out of their business and passing of control over to IDS!

Enough objective comment

Dear tenant, I am not ignoring your scary as hell concerns you rightly have here, rather I am just making the point of how truly f**king inept social landlords are and how they have well and truly f**ked themselves as well as you by their rank incompetence.

Dear housing professional, do you have any residual faith in the NHF and other ‘sector’ leadership? Have you spoken to your union yet about how you need a greatly enhanced revised risk assessment for when you go out onto your patch? Can you even believe just how truly f**king stupid it is to give away control of rent arrears payment to IDS and the DWP?  Can you, like I, think of 20 or more other all negative implications and consequences of this chronic incompetence?

Dear housing ‘great and good’ – are you still against the view I have been banging on about for years that the sector is not a sector, that is has no leadership, that is it incompetent at lobbying, that it is under radical attack from welfare reform and needs to get its finger out of its backside?

Dear #HousingDay devotee – so sorry to burst the great and genuine enthusiasm you felt for social housing last week by this rank incompetence. Perhaps you may review my constructive criticism that #HousingDay as good as it was needs to be 365 days per year and SHOUTED 100 time louder and directed at Joe Public and government and not at an internal housing audience?

Dear all in housing – OMFG its starting to sink in now isn’t it.  Yes, social housing and its perception and reputation is not just in the toilet, the chain in that toilet has been pulled. And guess what its undeserved as 99% of you love your job and see social housing as a vocation and you genuinely care for the social tenant and are passionate about social housing and the many huge benefits it gives.

Yet the incompetence of your ‘leaders’ – the great and the good of social housing have sold you down the river too and made your job a hundred times harder and perhaps untenable so many of you wmay decide to go and stack she;ves in Tesco instead.  Nobody would blame you if you did as who would like to do a job in which your ‘customer’ despises you as that is another thing this inept decision means.

To the many Chief Execs and Housing Directors I know, yes you will be just as angry as I over this and see all of the above implications only too well.  Yet the headhunters will probably be already on the phone more than usual and this time you WILL take those calls and WILL begin to think what the hell am I doing here? That will be a great but understandable loss.

To the ever more commercial commercial commercial focus of the Nat Fed that increasingly fall in with the ever more commercial commercial commercial G15 – Why don’t you just admit you want to be a private landlord and get the fuck out of social housing?

Take your perverse London housing conditions and stop imposing them on the rest of the country where they don’t apply.  So whether you want to maintain your facade of being social landlords or not, just fuck off out of social housing and the social housing model that does not suit your modus operandi and political will and commerci.

Yes I could, at a push, find an objective and more diplomatic way to say that. Yet enough is enough!

Rent arrears and UC – This is scary on so many levels

Last week the Welfare Minister Lord Freud announced that if a tenant falls into arrears then the DWP will deduct 10% – 20% of the social tenants benefit at source, in addition to paying the full rent directly.

I have dwelt on this for a week to avoid the overuse of the word ‘f**k’ and ‘f**king’ ahead of any comment on what this means.  It is a truly f**king outrageous idea with f**king horrendous impacts – ok you get the idea.  And those expletives are not used for effect the use of the ‘f-word’ is very professional and surprisingly tactful to describe the horrors that will inevitably happen.

Like many in social housing I have worked in arrears. I put systems in place in a large housing association the best part of 20 years ago mainly to deal then with HB overpayments and underpayments and HB mistakes which then were a huge issue in landlord arrears with repeat and new claims often taking over 100 days.

HB operations have got better but still form a huge element of actual and theoretical arrears and as will always be the case 80% of tenants have never been in arrears and of the 20% about 80% are problematic only because of the vagaries of part-time, seasonal and zero hours work and HB getting sorted. The 80% of tenants who have never been in arrears is about to change dramatically and ALL of these will fall into arrears to which I will return.

To ensure the system changes worked I took many arrears case to the courts, the wont payers and never would payers of which a tiny percentage exist and always will. I too got frustrated at district judges awarding a suspended possession order on full rent plus (in todays terms) £3.65 per week off the arrears.

This negligible £3.65 per week is what the judiciary maintains the tenant can afford to have deducted at source from other welfare benefits.  Take more and the tenant can’t afford and is likely to be back in court for breach of the SPO pretty damn quick.

Now let’s look at what Freud has announced by comparison and the horrors begin to emerge.

Between 10% and 20% will be deducted at source form other welfare benefits as well as the rent paid direct.

Take a single person on JSA or IS of £72 per week and that gives a deduction at source of £7.20 to £14.40 per week – double or quadruple what the judges think is affordable!

The UC system rapidly becomes non financially sustainable for the tenant or landlord and that is not only scary as hell for its inevitable consequences for the social tenant it is by definition unjust.

Now imagine the tenant is a couple with four children in receipt of the Universal Credit standard payment of £393.07 per week.  They will have between £39.31 and £78.62 per week deducted at source. This is 11 to 22 times what a judge would have deducted and consider to be just and affordable.

Proverbial and fan anyone?

Social landlord lobbied hard on this alternative payment – which proves they can lobby when they put their mind to it!!! – yet the consequences for ‘their’ tenants, in that possessive way they like to describe ‘their’ tenants is horrendous.  It is also horrendous for the social landlord in financial terms too.

Initially social landlords will get back more and get that direct from the DWP who administer Universal Credit (assuming the system works of course. Ahem!)  Yet very quickly ‘their’ tenants will either be evicted or will, more likely, abandon the tenancy.  As far as is known UC has no alternative payment system in place for former tenant arrears so the tenant getting these huge and unaffordable deductions at source will do a flit.

We can even project which tenants this will be namely those who receive the most in welfare benefits and soon to be UC standard payments.

  • Those SRS households in the provinces from the single person to a couple with 4 children if the benefit cap remains at £500 per week, or
  • Those SRS households up to a couple with 3 children if the benefit cap reduces to its proposed £440 per week level

These households types, and assuming UC does not have a former tenant arrears deduction at source, will abandon and be able to afford a private rent in the provinces (low rent areas)

In London and high rent areas of the South East this becomes all household sizes of a couple with 2 children and below.

The abandonment aspect is one possible scenario and here are more but (apologies for chopping and changing reader) let’s return to my view that the 80% of social tenants who have never been in arrears WILL, and definitively will reduce to next to zero%.

The transition to UC from the current system explains as it involves, at least, a 5 week period when the tenant receives no benefit payment.  As a result ALL tenants WILL fall into arrears.

Let’s say 1 March 2015 is the date of the move from the current system to Universal Credit.  On the 1 March an assessment period takes 4 weeks (again no comment on the likelihood of UC working correctly) and then a payment is made 1 week later.  (I also ignore the fact a tenant can apply for a part payment in this time).

This 5-week period, the move to monthly payment of benefit, is a f**king joke and I need no further commentary as to why IDS and Freud expect the ‘benefit tenant’ can survive for 5 weeks on thin air!  Yet in that time the social tenants rent will fall 4 weeks or more in arrears, which is the trigger point for social landlords to apply for (a) rent directly paid to them, and (b) deductions at source of 10% – 20%.

In that time some tenants may manage but many will go to Wonga et al, more correctly be forced to go to Wonga, Provident and the other legalised loan sharks as well as the definitively illegal loan sharks who pray on the social tenant – in other words building up debt upon even more unaffordable debt.  Note too if the abandonment scenario happens, which it will, now is the time to get rid of your shares in catalogue companies!!

Landlords and especially finance directors of social landlords who do not live in the real world will see existing tenants in arrears and especially those with longstanding and high arrears have their arrears balances reduce sharply.  £70 per week paid direct for the lone parent with 4 kids instead of £3.65 is a marked change after all.

Yet those without any arrears, the 4 out of 5 tenants never in real arrears, will now fall into arrears for the first time. And those tenants with ‘manageable’ or ‘acceptable’ levels of arrears will go far more into arrears and all because of the systemic fault in Universal Credit.  The social landlord who is peeved (rightly) that the direct payment of UC sees no choice for the tenant and the tenant taking control away form the landlord of the payment of rent can simply instruct the computer system to automatically send alternate payment and 10% – 20% at source deductions requests to DWP.

Yet they would be mad to do so as this only guarantees a higher level of arrears and only guarantees their tenants will despise them with all of the consequences that flow from a broken landlord tenant relationship.  Unfortunately, in many private conversations I have had social landlords are planning to do precisely that.

The social tenant who I have stated time after time is angry at what it perceives is the landlord abandoning them in the bedroom tax will simply abandon the social landlord who they will see not in the supportive, charitable light they always have been perceived, but as no different from the money grabbing private landlord perception they have. Repair requests will rocket. Claims over disrepair will rocket too with solicitors (and a few barristers) crawling out of the woodwork and seeking out the social tenant for legal claims on a contingency basis – I wonder how many social landlord FDs have factored the plethora of £10k+ disrepair claims into their financial plans?

The billions of pounds per year improvements that tenants make to social landlord properties at no cost to the social landlord will cease, as the social tenant can no longer afford to make their house a home.

As I have ‘banged on about’ for a few years now all of the welfare reforms are an attack and a radical and speedy attack on the social housing model.  I have also ‘banged on’ about social landlords need to get their finger out and lobby as they are woeful at it.  Yet the huge irony is that the one time the ‘sector; has successfully lobbied is in the one area that will see real arrears rocket and rocket far more than the 6.6% non payment of rent the direct payment pilots revealed – 13 times more not paid in rent then the current system.

The levels of actual poverty, however defined, will rocket amongst the social tenant because of what the social landlord has lobbied for here in alternate payment arrangements and the accompanying 10% – 20% deductions at source.  All of the social landlords who see and take on extra ‘services’ such as is the current vogue for education, employment and training activities for ‘their’ tenants will not be able to afford them yet will have positioned themselves as being the best placed to carry this out.  The HA as ‘community champion’ and providers of ‘housing plus’ services which is where they have placed themselves for a decade or more and increasingly so will (a) have to expand and (b) these HAs will not be able to afford current levels due to lower rental income – a double whammy of being well and truly shafted by the coalition which they stupidly will pass on and take out on their tenants.

Now imagine, and it is not hard to imagine, that in less than six months the Tories remain in power either alone or in coalition.  The ‘welfare reforms’ – those that haven’t worked and are costing the UK taxpayer £7m more PER DAY, will be ramped up and brought online as quickly as possible.  The Tories will say the electorate voted for these welfare cuts and will continue to introduce the detail of the UC operations on the fly just as this Freud plan for 10% – 20% deduction is the devil in the detail of a policy we were told was ready to go on 1 April 2013.

For the social housing model, for the social tenant and for the social landlord that is a truly F**KING scary scenario.  It is the end of the social housing model.  Doubtless there will be many HAs – more correctly termed PRIVATE Registered Providers – who will think this is a good idea. There will also be many ‘dinosaurs’ from social housing who believe any move towards greater commercial activity is wrong.  Yet what is happening here is the old divide and conquer trick.  Both of these diametrically opposed social housing views know the welfare reforms are not working and even the advocates of commercialisation who initially took the brown paper bag bung of AR to mitigate the bedroom tax and benefit cap cuts and have now abandoned it, realise the welfare reforms are ill conceived ill thought through and subject to even more political change on a whim to attack the ‘disease’ of social housing.

Yet instead of coming together as any ‘sector’ would they are duped into fighting one another and only coming together to challenge and lobby for the system outlined above which will shaft them anyway.

Dupes is too high a compliment for these incompetents who comprise the ‘great and the good’ of social housing as even when they do challenge they do not realise what a God almighty f**king nightmare they are lobbying for will mean.

Oh,in case you hadn’t realised it social tenant, you are well and truly f**cked over by this so get off your lazy arse and get a job!!  Oh hang on don’t the FACTS show there are more in work claiming HB than White Dees on the dole claiming HB?  Yes they do but its clear your f**king stupid and purportedly ‘social’ landlord does not know this and is not f**king clever enough to realise how such facts as this and facts such as how welfare reform (sic) isn’t working could help their real cause (and yes some even still call social housing a movement!) and work in a mutually financial interest way for tenant and landlord.






Naked social landlords have no shame in loving Max Bygraves?

“I wanna tell you a story” said Max Bygraves and the gullible social landlord is enamoured with HCA’s The Emperors New Clothes?

After 30 years and more of not promoting the social housing model the ‘great and the good’ of social housing believe that telling stories about it will change the rigidly held views of Joe Public that (a) social housing is the housing of last choice; (b) that social housing is replete with White Dees, and (c) the social tenant is the archetypal scrounger who can only be bothered to get out of bed in order to watch Jeremy Kyle behind his taxpayer funded drawn curtains on his taxpayer funded 60″ flat screen TV.

Tell stories, appeal to people’s emotions, don’t encumber the populace with fact, and only communicate with them by digital means as the universal panacea of social housing’s reputational problems can be resolved if you tell them a story don’t you now!

Use invisible thread to weave together these stories an at the drop of a hat (^?) everyone will believe social housing is the home of choice that Kings and Queens will demand and flock to, and yes even naked Emperors.  That is all it takes don’t you know!

Joe Public will believe a mouse lives in a social housing windmill in Old Amsterdam, is it hardly surprising that they will say the storytellers weave their narrative in their age-old Svengali way to the gullible who want to believe in something so good to be true? The mouse sings every morning how happy he is to live in social housing although he is an anti social mouse making plenty of noise dancing in his clogs on the stairs – but hey all windmills are detached and not flats thankfully.

Let’s get serious. Social housing as a brand, and its a brand whether you like it or not, is in the toilet.

That toilet is a vile one too, a toilet despoiled by Thatcher’s RTB that had a cultural dynamic never challenged by the naked Emperors of merely renting made you a second-class citizen in the great property owning democracy myth she weaved.  Recently after repeated attacks by the coalition and the social tenant being epitomised as the most likely welfare scrounger and blamed for all ills along with the lazy consensus amongst social landlords who allowed this, that toilet has become a cess pit or major an open sewer.  Then we had the poverty porn of Benefit Street, How to get a Council House and yes another similar ‘storytelling’ exercise in a new poverty porn series about to begin next week.

But ignore all that as I wanna tell you a story!

Stories do work to confirm long held myth as this latest TV poverty porn will, but they don’t change such hardened views and Joe Public even in their most charitable period of the year the month leading up to Christmas when those homeless have sympathy rather than being scorned as Johnny Foreigner beggars will even more believe that social housing is replete with White Dees!

Yet the Svengali’s are preaching to the naked Emperors that telling positive stories that appeal to the emotions of Joe Public will produce a remarkable turnaround in the public psyche. These are all it takes with the only caveat being they are told digitally – a clever caveat as the naked Emperor’s all want to appear up to date and with the technology for their personal standing and they can always sell digital and SM to their pliant boards and SMTs as the most cost effective way of transmitting a message.

Message?  What message would that be?  Oh lets not bother ourselves with that, there are plenty of ‘our’ tenants who will extol the virtues of social housing and that doesn’t look contrived either and it costs us bugger all too!  When the Emperor looks in that mirror he realises that this is putting marketing in the hands of the tenant and loses control of an essential business practice.  Mirror mirror on the (Facebook) wall anyone?

The emperors can control the internet of course and only allow it to be a one-way street and only issue positive ‘stories’ abut them.  Perhaps the have already written into tenancy agreements what hoteliers in Blackpool have done to their customers – write a negative review and we will fine you £100.

I know says the Emperor lets invite tenants to a workshop and invite their views. You know a fur coat no knickers exercise feigning listening while we coerce them with a buffet lunch.  We can even put up messages around the hall to subliminally tell them how good social housing is, maybe even give ten of them a cheap £30 tablet for the best pithy reply to “I like social housing because….”

Oh hang on what are these messages?  What is it we want to say?  Oh bugger off Joe don’t go making this more difficult than it needs to be.  If we knew the positives of social housing we would have been saying them for the last 30 years but haven’t!  Fair point Emperor and my don’t you look sartorial today?


Coalition welfare reforms have FAILED – In figures

The Tory-led coalition introduced the Welfare Reform Act with many policies collectively aimed at reducing the Housing Benefit bill by “nearly £2 billion per year by 2014/15″.

The actual HB bill has increased by £2.1 billion above the governments target and so is £4 billion above the ‘inherited’ figure in real terms.

This means that all of the welfare reforms (sic) listed below which all aimed to reduce the HB bill have failed:

  1. LHA cap
  2. LHA increase in SAR age from under 25s to under 35s
  3. LHA freeze in 2012/13 and in 2013/14
  4. Bedroom Tax
  5. Benefit Cap

The DWP said in its magazine called HB Digest published in early July 2010 that:

The Chancellor announced a package of Housing Benefit (HB) reforms in his Budget statement on 22 June. Ministers are clear that the overall cost of HB, forecast to be around £20 billion this financial year, must be controlled and reduced. The package of reforms will save nearly £2 billion by 2014/2015

Housing Benefit reforms (1 – 5 above) all aimed at reducing the overall Housing Benefit bill by nearly £2 billion by today in 2014/15.

The House of Commons Library in SN/SG/5699 published in November 2010 gave nominal figures for this estimate of the coalition

HB expected gov figs

As you can see in column 2 we have the government estimates for the HB bill form 2009/10 right up to 2015/16 and these make up the estimated coalition figures – what the government expected to be the overall cost of Housing Benefit.  I have put this is one of those simple graphs together with the actual Housing Benefit cost figures below.

HB£ under coalition act v budget

As you can clearly see reader the expected HB cost as at the latest figures for August 2014 would be £21.487 billion yet they are £24 bilion or some £2.5 billion more per year than the government said they would be due to the welfare reforms all of which were welfare cuts to Housing Benefit.

So the HB bill is almost £7 million more PER DAY than the government estimated it would be and that really shows the extent of the failure of the welfare reform policies of the bedroom tax, benefit cap and LHA changes.

The welfare reforms to Housing Benefit cost £7 million more PER DAY than expected.

Look at the graph again and note that the gap between budget and actual is getting bigger and this coincides with the increase in reforms as the benefit cap was delayed.  So the more reforms that come in the greater the increase in Housing Benefit cost!

The welfare reforms (sic) have all FAILED

To move a bit more in-depth we see today the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the IFS think tank has produced widely circulated figures which say (a) the overall HB bill is £1 billion above the estimate and, (b) this is due to an underestimate of the cost of housing benefit in the private rented sector.  Yet both of these are wrong.

As the graph and comment above shows the housing benefit bill is £2.5 billion more than expected not £1 billion – an note too that the LHA freeze brought in and operated in 2012/13 and 2013/14 was not part of the original plans. This was simply an added ‘cut’ to try and bring down the PRS bill and overall housing benefit bill.

Yet just how the IFS can assert and deduce their chronically underestimated £1 billion increase was due to the PRS cost is incredulous.  Note the HoC paper above stating how much the cost was expected by the three sectors of council housing, housing association housing and PRS housing.

Here are the budget -v- actual figures at end of March 2014, that is year end.

  • Council housing expected £5.396bn – actual £5.876 bn – hence £480m more than expected
  • HA Housing expected £7.480 bn – actual £9.515 bn – hence £2,035m more than expected
  • PRS Housing expected £8.344bn – actual £9.146 bn – hence £802m more than expected

So the real underestimate and real added cost above expected is the £2.035 billion more in housing benefit cost for housing association tenants which is 27% more than expected. The PRS total is 9.6% more than expected and council housing is 8.9% more than expected.

The overall HB bill is 11.64% more than expected.

Make no mistake the welfare reforms have failed and their failure is growing by the day!

Poverty porn and the self inflicted housing famine

When RTB was introduced 3 of every 4 rented properties was in social housing. Today it is less than 1 in 2 and a truly scary JRF report suggests in 25 years time that 3 in every 4 rented properties will be in the private sector.  If that is correct then in two generations the market share has completely reversed and social housing becomes even more inconsequential than that label I placed on #HousingDay which is the largest effort by far that social housing has done to challenge these repeated attacks upon it!

Last week the whole of social housing got together for a one day love in extolling the many virtues it has, which it clearly has. I heavily criticised that as not being anywhere near enough and its promotion needed to be directed outside of social housing, a view I received some criticism for, at least initially, as did Antonia Bance for saying the same

Yet what was most encouraging was that Ade Capon who did an amazing job of getting the very disparate ‘sector’ together for this one #HousingDay, and just how disparate it is and just what an achievement this was I know only too well, retweeted my blog over this as did other major influencers across the ‘sector’ and a number of discussions took place about this which was also encouraging.  Note here that sector is in parentheses as my view is no ‘sector’ exists.

It’s time for social housing to have a grown up debate and realise what the social housing model is and what it has become through the lack of challenge to the many attacks it has suffered since Right To Buy over 30 years ago.  The current welfare reforms (sic) rapidly and radically accelerate those attacks on the social housing model and yet there is still apathy and reticence in terms of challenging those attacks.

That has to stop and the ‘sector’ needs to come out fighting and fighting radically.  It’s time for the non sector to become a sector and to admit its overt reticence and apathy towards challenging is largely responsible despite the fact we can’t turn the clock back and change.  Yet the ‘sector’ is notoriously hostile to any criticism of it and however constructive such criticism is.

Grow up!

The social housing model is facing oblivion if it carries on its stance of apathy and non-challenge and it needs to challenge a hundred times more than it is doing and has done, yet it is incredibly ill-equipped to make any form of challenge. It does not even have one lobby for all of social housing which is needed to fight for and resist reactively and proactively the numerous attacks on that social housing model. – That has to change.

Until it has one voice and one representative lobby fighting for all of social housing it will continue to be taken with the seriousness it now does, that is none at all. I put out a throwaway suggestion that a precept of 2p per social rent per week is top sliced to create a £4.5m per year fund to do just that – an insignificant £1 per year per property.  Simple yet perhaps non workable given the egos and empire builders from the numerous disparate sub lobbies already in social housing from sheltered to supported to homelessness to HA only lobbies and council house only lobbies etc.

That is the unusual position social housing is in as a (non) sector. It is perfectly acceptable for a sector to have sub-sectors lobbying but only after that sectorwide lobby has been established yet housing has gone about it the other way around and creating problems for itself.  It is time for egos to be set aside and time for those competing egos to come together as one entire sector in order to challenge the radical attacks the whole sector is facing and not just the NHS fighting for HA issues or Shelter or Crisis or Homeless link fighting for homeless services or EROSH fighting for sheltered.

Social housing needs to grow up and grow a set else it won’t grow but will shrink and shrink into oblivion and yes that means getting ‘political.’

There I have said it, that dirty word amongst social housing “politics!”  Oh we can’t do that it will be seen as political is a phrase that gets trotted out as excuse time after time without any thinking. It will affect our charitable status is another variation of the same erroneous nonsense.  Everything is political and especially social housing which is the only ‘product’ in the ‘market’ which does accommodate the SODS (Sick, Old, Disabled, Supported) because the only other alternative, the private rented sector, doesn’t do sheltered and doesn’t do disability or supported housing.  The SRS does DO the SODS as part of the 30 pieces of silver it gets as ‘subsidy’ from each successive government.  That is its pact with the devil.

Social housing has provided every government since RTB with a huge economic return on its investment (subsidy or grant) as without it and using todays terms the SRS returns a saving of over £4bn per year for the just over £1bn per year it receives …and also houses the SODS too. Yet there is almost a view of ‘subsidy’ is some form of altruistic beneficence given to them by successive governments and not for the huge economic and socio-economic return each government gets from that investment.

Put starkly ‘subsidy’ or grant is not given to social housing out of some political altruism it is given because it saves government a bloody fortune as without it the HB bill and the B&B bill and the homelessness bill and the care home bill and the PRS bill would all go through the bloody roof!

Social housing and its provision is high politics and the political economy in action and always has been. Take away capital grant and the housing of UK plc falls apart and mass recession occurs as UK employers who rely upon it to the tune of about £5.4 billion per year could not afford to employ the 1.08m people it does on such low wages that they qualify for full Housing Benefit and the welfare benefits bill would rocket too.

The social housing ‘sector’ thus has UK plc by the short and curlies yet acts by tugging its forelocks and being eternally grateful to its government paymasters!  Wake up and grow up!

The (non) sector also needs to totally rethink itself and one example is RTB.  Since RTB 30 years and more ago social housing has returned far more on its investment that it has received every year.  Yet while it rightly bemoans RTB for its lack of a 1 for 1 replacement, it fails to see RTB for what it is and was in politico-cultural terms and that is the root of the current problems.

RTB, as well as damaging housing supply and being a vote winner throughout the 1980s, changed cultural perceptions of Joe Public.  This was the “home owning democracy” core element it has which says if you do NOT want to be a home owner and remain a ‘mere’ tenant you have no ambition; you are a second-class citizen with a second-class mentality and thinking.  Yet the apathy, forelock-tugging and lack of challenge to that political and cultural perception by the (non) sector, allowed that perception to become hardened in the psyche of Joe Public and by extension meant social housing is the housing of last resort in that psyche.

The lack of challenge and apathy from the (non) sector over a generation has created huge problems for the (non) sector today.  You reap what you sow and the SRS didn’t plant any seeds at all and now wonders why famine is taking hold!

I am fiercely passionate about social housing and passionate about the role social media and the digital route can been utilised to communicate and promote social housing.  Yet there is a form of universal panacea that the SM route is the only way and that SM / digital has become the medium not the message when it is the message that social housing needs to sell to those external to it – the Marshall McLuhan of casual viewin head buried in the sand view of Genesis not the medium is the message alone.

SM and the digital route alone will not convince Joe Public and Government of the huge benefits social housing brings without the messages being there that social housing save the country and every taxpayer a bloody fortune and houses the SODS and 31% of SRS is retired compared with 7% retired in PRS for example oh and that there are more HB recipients in full time work than on the dole claiming it.  Social housing is not the White Dee / Benefit Street of poverty porn and TV and political myth yet the (non) sector still does bugger all to correct those myths if it fails to see its own messages.

Know thyself social housing!


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