Labour Party – the biggest bedroom tax incompetents – IT COSTS MORE you idiots!!

The Labour Party are as I write (4pm) using an Opposition Day debate on getting rid of the bedroom tax.  I should be delighted at that.  Yet they are the most incompetent ineffectual buffoons who do not know anything about the bedroom tax or about how to argue for its demise.

The Labour Party are more content to isolate the Liberal Democrats on this debate than to get rid of the policy.  That assertion is, regrettably, easily proved as the BEDROOM TAX COSTS MORE!

On a few occasions in the past 18 months I have sat down with others at a high level in housing to address the simple question – Does the bedroom tax actually save money? The issue being if it does not then the pain and misery it causes mean the policy is massively misguided.  Or put another way prove the policy actually costs money and then the coalition who maintain it does save money have no basis to continue with it.

Yet the Labour Party, Her Majesty’s Official Opposition, acquiesce to the coalition argument that is does save money when it is EASILY proved that it does not.  The fact that Labour fail to see the bedroom tax actually COSTS reveals their intention here smacks of political opportunism and incompetence.

Why does the bedroom tax cost more?

The bedroom tax is one of 4 welfare reform policies aimed at reducing the HB bill.  The other being the benefit cap, the LHA caps on private rented and the increase in the Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR) from under 25 to under 35. All four of those policies, individually and collectively, are aimed at reducing the Housing Benefit bill.

Obviously if the HB bill has increased since their introduction then these 4 policies have failed as they HB bill has not reduced.

That is the simple and obvious argument which if all other factors being the same MUST be true. Yet as I explain below it is even worse than that as these other factors should have reduced the overall HB bill even further yet it has INCREASED and that MUST mean the bedroom tax and 3 other welfare reforms mentioned have failed and DO NOT SAVE MONEY.

Overall HB bill April 2013 to August 2014

The bedroom tax and in part the benefit cap became operational in April 2013.  The LHA cap and SAR from 1 January 2012. The August 2014 date is used as this is the latest official data set – the latest figures.

Hence as all of these policies have been operational in full or in part since April 2013 we can compare the HB bill then with the latest figures to reveal whether these 4 policies have reduced or increased the HB bill.  That is a very simple yet valid comparison and yes I will include inflation too.

  • April 2013 had 5,062,172 claimants each receiving an average of £89.24 to make £23.6bn overall
  • Aug 2014 saw 4,930,162 claimants at £93.05 to make £23.9bn overall cost.

The coalition argument that the bedroom tax et al save money would see the overall HB bill reduce. as that is the stated purpose. Yet it has increased by £300 million and not fallen. Note well too there are 132,010 fewer claimants too in August 2014 so the bill should have fallen by £615 million for that alone to a figure of £22.9bn.  Yet it has increased by £1bn to £23.9bn.

Have these claimed savings by the coalition just disappeared into the ether?  Clearly not and Mark Harper today restated what IDS said a week or so back that the bedroom tax, and note bedroom tax alone, has saved £830m so far based on their ‘view’ of a £500m per year saving.

Yet the official HB figures do not show 83 pence worth of savings let alone £830 million and in fact they show the HB bill has increased not fallen at all.

Rachel Reeves, Labour Party’s IDS equivalent said nothing about these claimed savings.  In fact when Mark Harper mentioned his patently false view that the bedroom tax has saved £830m he then challenged Rachel Reeves to say where the money would come from to repeal the bedroom tax.  Rachel (dimwit) Reeves then proceeded to say where from.

Yet in doing so she acquiesced to the easily disproven lie of the coalition that the bedroom tax saves money – a huge political error and huge ineptitude and incompetence on her and the Labour Party’s part!

If she knew the facts these official figures show – and they are the official HB figures produced by the DWP – there would be no need to say where savings would come from to pay for the repeal of the bedroom tax as there is no savings from elsewhere needed!!!!

The bedroom tax AND the 3 other welfare reform policies of benefit cap, LHA cap and SAR do NOT save a penny to the public purse and even allowing for inflation they collectively COST MORE!!!!

The Labour Party and in particular Rachel Reeves is incompetent, ineffective and has thrown away a huge chance to get rid of the bedroom tax and discredit the coalition lie that it saves money.  So whether the Labour Party motive is opportunistic or principled, they have well and truly fucked up!!

 

NOTES

I mentioned above some ‘high powered’ meetings took place with housing leaders to look at the claimed savings issue.  They were, in hindsight being too clever for their own good. We went into huge depth of how the bedroom tax in theory reduce central government spend even after DHP and other central government costs (Tribunals etc) and most of the additional costs were in essence transferred to local government such as higher HB and admin costs.

Yet IF the bedroom tax and other policies aimed at reducing HB actually SAVED then they would be reflected in the simple overall HB cost as given above.  They would have to after taking out any matters not on a like-for-like basis and accounting for inflation etc.

Perhaps, the Labour Party strategists and bean counters had similarly been looking too deeply and got wrapped up in those extremely complex and difficult financial arguments.  They did not need to (and yes I slap my own wrists for that!) and I only saw the argument a month or so ago when I published a blog about it.

ANY financial savings from the bedroom tax would HAVE to show in the simple overall cost figure as would any savings from the benefit cap, LHA cap and SAR policies.  Yet no savings exist even after inflation and taking away any other non like-for-like matter.

In addition there are the £115m added cost of DHP to be set against this lack of savings and they increase the overall COST of the policy too (£50m in 2013/14 and £65m both for bedroom tax alone in DHP).  Then of course the added cost of tribunals etc all add to the additional cost to central government of the bedroom tax and then there is the added cost of HB administration and increased homeless presentations and homeless temporary accommodation to local government to add too.

Considered in this correct way, I doubt even the most hardline Tory could present a cogent argument that the bedroom tax has saved money.  It simply has not.  Yet the real issue is why Her Majesty’s Official Opposition in the Labour Party with all its stated opposition to the policy and its many resources it has to research, unilaterally failed to see the bloody obvious!

The Labour Party today, and Rachel Reeves is ultimately responsible here, let down 480,000 households or about 1.2 million men, women and children that live in these bedroom taxed households by NOT seeing the argument and by not promoting it.  That is rank ineptitude and especially after their social media campaign which saw over 100,000 sign their opposition to this pernicious and FINANCIALLY COSTLY policy.

 

The low levels that Ashton Jobcentre will go to to sanction people.

joehalewood:

JobCentre staff want to see women and unborn child starve due to sanctions!!

Originally posted on The poor side of life:

20140820_133540

23 week pregnant woman sanctioned.

The above woman (wearing costume so the Jobcentre staff don’t recognise her) was sanctioned when 23 weeks pregnant. The reason you may ask…. for attending a work fare interview (work for nothing) at B&Q.

Whilst at the interview they noticed that she was pregnant and they said yep we will put you on light duties…. The jobcentre decided otherwise… in their words “we are sanctioning you because you told them that you were pregnant”.

So in other words she was meant to break all health and safety laws in the uk and not declare that she was pregnant. How on earth can this be right? It isn’t. She was heartbroken. She had walked a few miles to this workfare interview and she saw it as her last hope of not being sanctioned.

Ashton Under Lyne Jobcentre knowingly target pregnant women. On one of our demonstrations…

View original 78 more words

UT ruling makes en masse direct action bedroom tax protest inevitable

The bedroom tax ruling by the Upper Tribunal ruling last week perversely encourages the shafted tenant to launch an en masse direct action programme of disruption to the new bedroom tax decisions in March 2015. Below I explain why.

In January 2013 I stopped blogging about the benefit cap and supported housing and other arcane housing matters read by only a small percentage of those in housing and started writing about the bedroom tax. The views of my blogs went from 60,000 a year to almost 4 million per year.

The first post was “What is a bedroom” and came to a conclusion that you can’t tax something you refuse to define and that as a result the entire bedroom tax decision making process was a sham and a legal sham. It is a sham and the UT ruling says so despite being a mess and a perverse mess.

The UT agree what is a bedroom or not is the central legal matter yet they fail to say what a bedroom is and in fact so the word ‘bedroom’ is so common it is impossible to define.

They go on to say the approach to take when defining a bedroom : -

“…reflects the old age that it is difficult to define an elephant but we know one when we SEE one and so we can explain why we think we have SEEN one by describing what we have SEEN.” (my emphasis para 23)

The bedroom tax has been imposed by council decision makers NOT SEEING bedrooms and instead by choosing to believe what a bedroom is or not is “up to the landlord” which is a perverse misreading of HB guidance on the matter – which the UT also found and again I said back in January 2013.

The UT goes on to conclude at [54] that: -

“…Parliament intended to allow decision makers to take account of ALL relevant circumstances on a CASE BY CASE BASIS”

This is one God Almighty mess of a ruling as well as being a fudge that determined nothing definitive which is going to cause havoc when the new 2015 bedroom tax decisions are decided in the same legally sham way next March.

Cue thousands upon thousands of tenants disputing that decision and asking councils to review and reconsider their decisions which is their right and ask their council for a statement of reasons as to how they made the decision which is also their right.

Cue tenants demanding that their council come out and inspect the disputed rooms which the tenants say are not of a size to be a bedroom citing paragraph [55] in this UT ruling which says all external size legislation and guidance:

“…provide cross checks that indicate that (or warning bells that) the room may be too small and thus (the council) need to provide reasons why, in the particular case, either it is or is not too small.”

Cue pandemonium and councils denying it means they need to inspect as of course this will cost them a fortune to do and will take forever to do – and especially so if they subcontract HB administration out which will cause huge contractual disputes between the LA and contractor.

That is just one example of the chaos and on just one issue that of size which this UT ruling failed to set down anything definitive upon despite its remit being to determine what a bedroom is by virtue of size and by virtue of usage.

When I first stated the decision making process was a sham and this gave all affected households a legitimate ground of appeal,l I was ‘slated’ for that view by the CIH and NHF in an article in Inside Housing and told my view of the decision making process was nonsense and all I was doing was a direct action en masse stunt.

The irony now is that the UT ruling as I outline above makes a programme of en masse direct action almost inevitable as well as confirming what I said was correct.

The council decision-makers in every local authority were inundated back in early 2013 with a standard template letter I drafted and downloaded in the hundreds of thousands.  That letter asked every council 6 simple questions asking HOW they had come to the bedroom tax decision.  The council replies stated we don’t have to define, it is up to the landlord and we have no policy on this – all now proved to be a sham by the UT ruling.

Yes every council has admitted in their responses to that standard letter they acted unlawfully and their bedroom tax decision-making process was an unlawful sham.

Tenants and grass roots groups now have 3 months to develop this and decide what they are going to put in writing to their council next March when the new 2015 bedroom tax decision notices land on their doormats.  Yet all they have to do is be vague and say they dispute a room is not of a size to be deemed a bedroom and quote paragraph 55 above asking for a statement of reasons as to why their council believe the room is a bedroom reminding the council that they have to take ALL relevant matters into consideration on a case by case basis as the UT ruled Parliament intended they do.

That is what this perverse UT ruling means for challenging the bedroom tax, the same perverse UT ruling that determined nothing definitive on either size or usage appeal grounds but by God did it rule very clearly on procedural grounds of appeal as I outlined above and I predicted way back in January 2013.

I first mentioned the legitimacy of appealing on procedural grounds in August 2012 over 7 months before it became operational and despite the offensive, cowardly and vitriolic attacks by CIH and IH on my personal and professional abilities I stuck to my views because I knew they were right.  Yes I can afford to be smug over this now I have been proven to be right but I am not.

Hundred of thousands of vulnerable tenants have been shafted in that time and continue to be shafted on a daily basis by this pernicious bedroom tax. Some have died, all have suffered and that includes everyone in those households even children who have had to go without.  I am angry as hell over that and will always be yet this is also not a case of hindsight is a wonderful thing either.  Those social tenants who have all been shafted saw their landlords in the main not supporting them to challenge this pernicious policy, the same landlords who chose to believe the great and the good and that appealing the bedroom tax was a stunt and many of whom believed just as perversely that what a bedroom is or is not is up to them.

Now that this UT ruling puts the blame firmly on expedient unlawful practices by councils and helps those landlords achieve what they have been at pains to point out, that the bedroom was not their fault and they were not complicit in it, it is time those social (sic) landlords thought for once about how they can support ‘their’ tenants to challenge this pernicious policy and help to get rid of it once and for all.

Yet ultimately the social tenant cannot rely upon the social (sic) landlord to support them to challenge the pernicious bedroom tax policy just as I said from my first post on this back in August 2012.

__________________________________________________

An example of how councils admit they acted unlawfully – my post from June 2013 here

A post on HOW the decision was made being the key to appeal from April 2013 here

The What is a bedroom series of posts from January 2013 here that hammered home the bedroom tax decision making process is unlawful

A post from August 2012 – yes 2012! – when I raised the issue of hat is a bedroom and concluded landlords don’t want it defined and it would all be up to tenants to appeal is here

 

Shouting is not enough. Stop moaning and do your job housing ‘sector!’

 “Never bring a problem to me unless you have solutions for it.”

That was the memorable advice my Housing Director said to me many years ago: The Housing Directors of today are, unfortunately, merely content to moan about problems and not seek viable solutions to them.

Social housing like any business is dependent upon its bottom lines and funding true social rent housing is THE biggest problem for social housing.  Yet simply moaning about the reduction in grant or the growing commercialisation within social housing such as the affordable housing model is not good enough.  Solutions need to be found and quickly yet are not forthcoming from the ‘great and the good’ of social housing, just moans and inept ideas.

I do not welcome SHOUT, #4socialhousing, #HousingDay or any of the admittedly well-intentioned solutions because they are not solutions.  They are akin to the man hunting down Jaws and being given a coracle and fishing net; they are nowhere near enough.

The social housing model, the old council house model, is dependent on grant as all accept is needed and all accept is in ever-reducing funding from governments of the day regardless of who governs.  Yet ‘grant’ is perceived as ‘subsidy’ in its pejorative sense and that is used by all governments as excuse not to fund social rented housing and also, perhaps more importantly, to deflect away the major invest to save cost efficiencies for the public good it gives.

The ever-reducing nature of funding by way of grant – 60% in this parliament – has led to the crisis of supply in social housing and now it has become critical and universally recognised, yet still social housing is not an election issue because the social housing model is denigrated and has no public or governmental support.  Social housing is perceived as the housing of last choice despite millions demanding on it as the waiting lists reveal.

Politics is short-termism writ large and no government is going to increase grant or embark on a major Keynesian social housebuilding programme we saw in the 1950s and 1960s as their priorities are the short-term economy not the long-term greater good of the country.  That is especially the case when social housing itself does nothing to promote the social housing model with the huge economic benefits it brings.

Therein lies the problem….and the solution.

Since RTB began in 1980 nobody in social housing has promoted social housing and its many benefits, social as well as economic.  That is a whole generation of moans about RTB sales and lack of replacements and legitimate though these moans are that is all they are and have been.

Social housing has not promoted itself either on a reactive or proactive basis in a generation, it has simply moaned.  It has not offered or even appeared to seek any solutions to this problem, just simply moaned about them.  Yet every industry or sector has to promote itself and raise awareness of the good it does but social housing stands out like a sore thumb compared to any other industry in that it hasn’t promoted itself, it hasn’t sold to anyone but itself the good that it does.

This lack of promotion has allowed its reputation to be in the toilet.  From ignoring the cultural dynamic of RTB that renting is second class to the property owning democracy thesis inherent in RTB right through to Benefit Street and poverty porn, social housing has allowed the negative and stereotypical perception of it to become endemic in the minds of the public and government.

If you tell a lie often enough people believe it to be true in lay terms or as Thomas Paine said in the aptly named Common Sense: -

“…a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right.”

The great and the good of social housing in not promoting the social housing model to either the public or to government for a generation have allowed the public and government to see the social housing model in the negative light they now perceive it.

Social housing in the SHOUT / #HousingDay campaigns have slowly woken up to the fact that the policies of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, the bedroom tax, the benefit cap and shortly the twin evils of Universal Credit in direct and monthly payments, all attack the revenue funding of the social housing model in Housing Benefit.  This adds to the attacks on capital funding over the past generation with ever-reducing grant and gives the social housing model a double whammy to which the response has been frankly too little too late.

Social housing is fobbed off with the Affordable (sic) Rent model which saw their income increase from this additional rent by £200m in the first two years and mitigated the higher arrears of the bedroom tax.  Yet that AR model is not sustainable and becomes less sustainable if proposals to reduce the benefit cap from £500 per week down to £440 per week in the latest proposals.

While it can be said today that the £23k benefit cap is just a proposal should the government not change after the next General Election that policy WILL come in, and will do so because it has yet to be challenged by social housing despite meaning no social landlord can afford to accommodate a couple with 3 children anywhere in the UK because of that cap.

44% of those affected by the benefit cap live in social housing according to the DWP impact assessment yet it is perceived even by social housing to be a high private rent only issue.  The lack of realisation has meant that no challenge to it has been made – a case of allow a lie to go unchallenged and people believe it to be true, or Thomas Paine’s famous quote from Common Sense and no different to the lack of challenge to social housing is only cheaper because it is subsidised or the epitome of the social tenant is White Dee from Benefit Street.

The solution?

Firstly, social housing’s great and good need to acknowledge their failure in not challenging social housing policy over the last 30 years or more and the role that has played in allowing the radical nature and speed of change that the welfare reform policies now impose on them.

Second, the ‘sector’ needs to become a true sector and have a one voice one lobby organisation to campaign for the whole of the social housing model.  The NHF campaigning for HAs, ARCH campaigning for council landlords is simply not enough and the ‘sector’ can only be a true sector IF they find a way to create a campaign lobby that is 100 times as strong as SHOUT and #HousingDay combined.

Third, this new and true sector needs to realise what the problems are and the benefit cap discussion above highlights that dramatically.  Many of the current great and good do not even realise the dangers this policy will obviate for social housing.

Fourth, egos and empire builders and the usual suspects have to be set aside in urgently creating this new social housing model lobby.  It needs a professional lobby much like the career lobbyists found in the USA to governments there.  It needs lobbying experts, professional lobbyists not well intentioned but regrettably amateurish lobbies that it currently has.

Fifth, find a way to fund this professional lobbying organisation.  Given its universality the incredibly simple idea of a precept of £1 per year per social rented property would fund a £4 million per year organisation to lobby for the whole of social housing.  That is simple, fair, yet not naive but a viable solution.

Finally, and critically, this professional lobby needs to give equal weight to the 84% of social housing not located in London with its perverse housing conditions and which previously has taken 80% of the grant yet only has 16% of the social housing stock – a bizarre apathy from Northern landlords in allowing this too.  It also needs to give equal weight to customer issues and input, as with direct payment the social tenant becomes a customer after many years of being mislabelled that way.  Much as social housing’s great and good may not like that, it reflects the reality and context of social housing today and not the social housing of 30 years ago and the time warp that the great and the good of social housing still wish to inhabit.

Yet of course and in summary, such a simple idea will appear far too radical for the uber conservative great and good of social housing and nothing will be done…oh apart from a few further moans and perhaps an all-ticket seminar..oops sorry rally!

Why the bedroom tax has cost more than it has saved – IDS go figure!

Iain Duncan Smith has knowingly and deliberately lied to parliament.  He is a liar as can so easily be proven.  I make no bones either about calling him a liar and a deliberate and knowing one and I refuse to use euphemisms such as being economical with the truth and the like – he is a liar as the figures below highlight and in just a simple 10 minute blog using official figures that he produces!!

He lied over the bedroom tax as Hansard recalls from yesterday in the following question and answer:

Under-occupancy Penalty

Mr John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): What estimate he made of the potential savings to the public purse that would arise from implementation of the under-occupancy penalty; and what estimate he has made of the amount saved to date by that implementation. [906482]

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr Iain Duncan Smith): Before our reforms, the taxpayer had been paying for 820,000 spare rooms. To date, the policy has saved about £830 million from the housing benefit bill, and the estimated savings remain the same: approximately £500 million a year in 2013-14 and 2014-15. Those figures have been ratified by the Office for Budget Responsibility.

The bedroom tax (alleged) saving.

The bedroom tax has official figures published by the Secretary of State Work & Pensions – yes that’s IDS himself who publishes the official figures every quarter.  The most recent figures were published in November 2014 and cover the period up to August 2014 and this official data says:

BEDROOM TAX LATEST FIGS TABLE 3

  1. (a) How many households are affected (471,887), and
  2. (b) What the average weekly bedroom tax figure is (£14.92), and
  3. (c) There are 52.18 weeks in every year (365.25 days divided by 7)

So when we multiiply (a) 471,887 households at (b) £14.92 per week and then by (c) 52.18 we get the ABSOLUTE THEORETICAL MAXIMUM SAVING and that figure is (a) x (b) x (c) =

£368.114 million in a full year or £7.079 million per week.

IDS claims A saving of £830m so far as at yesterday. The absolute maximum (see below) is £615.87 million so IDS has stated a figure AT LEAST 35% MORE THAN IS THE MAXIMUM POSSIBLE

IDS claims the full first two years saving to be £1 billion.  Yet the absolute maximum saving is £736.228 million and again 35% MORE THAN IS THE MAXIMUM POSSIBLE

Comment

Take away the DHP costs which for the first two years for bedroom tax are £115 million and we see the maximum possible saving is £621m over two full years (£736m – £115m)

So IDS has told parliament that the ‘saving’ is 61 PER CENT HIGHER THAN IT CAN POSSIBLY BE

Yes he is lying and knowingly lying through his teeth.

Note for absolute clarity if many social housing tenants have left and their place taken by private tenants it could be possible to save housing benefit in this way.  Yet so few have been able to downsize and even if they are all private tenants moving into social housing and thus saving on the HB bill then just the legal costs IDS has paid out to take the recent Upper Tribunal case more than outweigh any savings alone.

Then we have so many other expenditure costs associated with the bedroom tax such as increased homelessness and increased number of bedroom tax appeals each one will cost about £1500 to the MoJ bill that government pays out and so many other expenditure costs.  But let’s forget all that complexity as to whether the additional costs are borne by local government and instead keep this so simple that even a lying buffoon like IDS can understand them.

The simple way to look at it.

IDS says the bedroom tax has saved the HB bill £830m so you would think that would have to be reflected in the overall HB bill and that would be ceteris paribus £830 million lower today than in April 2013 when the bedroom tax began.

The HB bill at April 2013 was £23.698 billion.  The HB bill at August 2014 was £23.937 billion or £239 million MORE than when the bedroom tax began.

Note well here that in April 2013 there were 132,000 fewer claimants too at 5.062 million compared with 4.930 million at August.

IF the same number of claimants were claiming HB as at April 2013 the HB bill would be a further £641 million more per year so – all things being equal – the overall HB bill on a like for like basis is £879 million MORE and not £830 million less as IDS claims.

Even allowing for rent inflation the real HB bill is over £250 million per year more at the latest August 2014 figure than it was when the bedroom tax began in April 2013.

Yes IDS is a liar and a known liar and has deliberately and knowingly lied to parliament over the savings of the bedroom tax which we can say are at least MINUS £250 million and have cost the public purse more and not saved a penny.

Those simple figures above just focus on the bedroom tax and show at least a £250 million increase to the overall HB bill.  Yet those simple figures do NOT include the alleged savings from the benefit cap, the savings from the LHA caps and the savings from the Shared Accommodation Rate or SAR and all of these are supposed to reduce the overall HB bill as well.

Therefore the bedroom tax, benefit cap, LHA cap and the SAR cap – all of the welfare reform policies put together and all intended to reduce the Housing Benefit bill – has seen that HB bill INCREASE by £250 million per year and not decrease at all!

Oh dear, IDS truly is a liar and a known liar isn’t he and ALL of the welfare reforms policies aimed at reducing the HB bill have actually increased that bill.

Is there anyone left on Planet Earth who believes the bedroom tax has saved money?

uc orwell

 

Does the Upper Tribunal says EVERY bedroom tax decision was unlawful? Yes!

Is every single bedroom tax decision wrong in law and does every single bedroom tax affected household have legitimate grounds to appeal it?  I posed those questions almost 2 years ago and was accused of talking nonsense and of stirring up a direct action campaign.  Yet that is what the Upper Tribunal lead case decision says – I was right all along and that the bedroom tax decision-making process is and always has been an unlawful sham and ALL decision made are official errors or unlawful.

Remember I drafted a standard letter which was downloaded over 200,000 times which asked your council how they made the bedroom tax decision with 6 questions.  The answers to those confirm your council made official errors / errors of law in making the original bedroom tax decisions by not defining bedroom and by simply choosing to believe the myth that a bedroom is up to the landlord.  EVERY council said we don’t have to define bedroom and it is up to the landlord!  Oh dear as this UT lead case has said they are errors of law and that all decisions made this way are unlawful.  (And I can’t help smirking that all councils have confirmed their sham and unlawful decision-making in their responses!!)

standard letter

The UT lead case decision does mean that every one of the 471.887 or so decisions to impose it are legally fraught and this is one God Almighty mess.  The chair of the 3 UT judges have tried to be too clever by half and succeeded and the judgment opens up the route for every single bedroom tax household to appeal the ORIGINAL 2013 decision.

A few months back a former HB appeals officer and a very knowledgeable person in this area said to me that if the original decision included an error of law / official error then there is not time limit on requesting a reconsideration or review of that decision.  He was referring to the HB Appeals & Decisions Regulations 2001 and part 2 (4)(2)(a) which says:

utofficialerrorreview

Therefore, it is strongly arguable that all decisions made to impose the bedroom tax contain official errors (the sham decision-making process) and every bedroom tax household can and indeed should be asking their council to reconsider the original 2013 decision for which there is no time limit.

Yes I did say the original decisions made in 2013 right back to the beginning and that is how inept this purported lead case decision is and below I explain how I come to this conclusion below with no apologies for its length and I start with the original question I asked myself.

Where does the shambles of the Upper Tribunal bedroom tax decision leave the sham of the policy in terms of challenge?

The first and obvious impact is we are stuck with this shambolic decision until the general election in May 2015.  There is no time for this to be appealed, though it should be, or for any other purported lead case to be heard ahead of next May. I could draft reams of why this is a political decision which it is; or why the judgment itself is a pig’s ear, dog’s breakfast or indeed and elephant’s arse and legally ripe for appeal, which it is; or ream upon ream on emotive or moral grounds or a rant; yet we are stuck with it and so the only issue is where do we go now in terms of challenging the bedroom tax decisions.

Many were hoping for and excepting the UT to rule out any room of less than 50 square feet as being a bedroom.  They didn’t say this yet perversely did in some respects and given their remit was to look at what is a bedroom in terms of size and in terms of usage the decision is puzzling and as I have argued here perverse and error strewn.  Giles Peaker of Nearly Legal gives his usual solid analysis here and there is one issue that I would go much further than he does in terms of challenge.

Giles’ last few paragraphs ask two questions and the same two questions I asked back in January 2013 when I asked what is a bedroom which the UT themselves say is the central issue in law at paragraph 3.

  1. Does this mean the council would have to investigate any disputed categorisations which he says yes!
  2. Would a decision-maker’s failure to give adequate reasons for deciding on disputed room be a ground of appeal, which he also says yes!

I would add significantly to both those questions and argue that this perverse UT decision does not realise what it has said and done with this shambolic judgment as from their own articulation and wording the cat is very much amongst the pigeons with what they have said.

Note well that I argue here that these two points are also linked and ‘decision-maker’ is not just the First-tier Tribunal judge but also refers correctly to the council’s decision-maker in each HB department.

1. Council to have to investigate any disputes?

Yes they do have to and this opens up a huge number of challenges and to the original 2013 sham decisions made by every council.  The judgment says the council decision-maker has to assess each case on an individual basis for the two side of the equation these being (a) the number of bedrooms each household is entitled to, and (b) the number of bedrooms (however defined) the property has and both, crucially, on an individual basis.  In short (a) is the bedroom need and (b) is the bedroom number.

It is also important to note I have thus far used the word ‘challenge’ and not ‘appeal’ as a formal legal appeal to the tribunal is only one of the challenges open to the affected bedroom tax tenant under HB regulations.

That tenant can ask their council decision-maker to review the original 2013 decision claiming that decision was based on errors of law and there is no time limit for a review on the original decision if it is made with an error of law unlike an appeal which has absolute time limits, and the UT decision says that councils did make errors of law in simply choosing to believe the word of the landlord.

The UT judgment suggests strongly that each council decision-maker has, on an individual basis, to determine the bedroom need and the bedroom number and is mandated to do so before it can levy the HB deduction or bedroom tax.  Regulation B(13)(2) says this clearly and her I give the view expressed in the Statutory Instrument which enacted the bedroom tax in order to avoid the chronically bad articulation in this judgment.

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.

A FtT judge in Newcastle recently said the same that the councils (the benefit authority in the UT decision) have a duty to establish the bedroom need, also to establish how many bedrooms the property has and THEN, but only then decide whether to impose the HB deduction or bedroom tax.

newc1  newc2

While the UT decision does not say in so many words that this is a statutory duty upon councils to do this there is little room for any other interpretation. The Nearly Legal view also says much the same in that councils can’t do what they actually did out of expedience in merely believing the word of the landlord.  Yet as we know when tenants have lodged disputes councils send the tenant off on a wild goose chase and say go back to your landlord – as they don’t want to go the cost of going out to inspect.

Yet this judgment says they do have to go out and inspect and they cannot simply believe the word of the landlord – Proverbial and fan.

That also means that every council who did (a) choose to merely believe the landlords classification of the number of bedrooms have erred in law and (b) the original decision they made were made with errors of law.

All tenants would be well advised to ask their council to review the original decision citing they maintain it was made with errors of law and hence there is no time limit on this. Cue further proverbial hitting the fan and cue huge additional cost for local authorities.

I was looking back at some of the many (far too many) blogs I have put out on the bedroom tax and I said all of the above procedural issues back in January 2013 before the bedroom tax came in and they all focused on the sham decision-making policy or HOW the bedroom tax decision was made.  I also drafted a blog entitled all 660,000 have legitimate grounds to appeal based on the sham decision-making procedures councils followed which is here and again the UT decision says much the same.

What this UT decision does is confirm my long stated view that the way councils made the decisions, the sham of HOW they made those decisions means they were made in error of law.  That is why I drafted the ‘standard letter’ which tenants downloaded in hundreds of thousands which specifically asked the councils HOW they made their decisions.  Those responses prove by their own hands that councils acted unlawfully by simply believing the word of the landlord because it was expedient for them to do so.

It caused a bit of a furore when I said all decisions were unlawful and when I also said all have legitimate grounds of appeal which many said was a mere direct action stunt.  It wasn’t then and as this UT decision proves it most certainly isn’t now!  Yes I was right all along and HOW the decision were made, the sham decision-making process was a legal sham and is ripe for appeal by every bedroom tax affected household.

All bedroom tax households, that’s every single one of the 471,887 bedroom tax households at the latest figures should be asking their council to review the decisions taken in 2013 as those decisions were made with errors of law in them.

So WHAT does the UT decision say:

After rejecting the posit of the DWP that a bedroom is a single bed surrounded by 4 walls with an outward opening door and for which the tenant would have to jump onto from a passage as absurd:

[34] “…it is necessary to make a properly informed decision on what is and what is not a bedroom for the purposes of the regulation.  This is because it points the way to what needs to be considered in connection with size and the other matter involved.”

Then at the last paragraph of [54] of which real note needs to be taken:

“We also agree with the Secretary of State that the choice by Parliament of a test using an undefined familiar or ordinary English word supports the view that Parliament intended to allow decision makers to take account of all relevant circumstances on a case by case basis.

Decision makers here means the Housing Benefit Officer of each local council who made the bedroom tax decisions (and of course all those private companies such as LDL and Liberata who administer HB on behalf of councils).  They have to consider ALL RELEVANT CIRCUMSTANCES  and consider them on a CASE BY CASE BASIS and not on a general sweeping fettering of discretion in choosing to believe the landlords view and choosing to interpret the HB regulations as meaning what is a bedroom is up to the landlord which is a legal fiction and error of law.

2. Adequate Reasons

If the Fife statement of reasons given by Judge Collins are inadequate and don’t fully say why he arrived at his decision then every statement of reasons I have seen – which is pushing 200 – are all inadequate too.  All FtT judges will recoil in horror at this part of the UT decision as it means they will have to write tomes explaining precisely why they came to the decision they did!

Yes the tribunal judges will respond in horror at this ruling for that reason and that is another God Almighty mess from this perverse decision.  If you have received a statement of reasons and lost does that tenant now have a right of appeal or a right to have their case set aside due to an inadequate statement of reasons?  Yes another mess!

This is also a huge further mess for councils too. One of the three challenges to each decision is asking for a statement of reasons from your council (with review and appeal) and that was the purpose of my standard letter I refer to above that was used nationally to begin the appeal process.  Those statement of reasons merely say – and confirm the unlawfulness of the sham decision-making – that what a bedroom it is up to the landlord.

When all households now ask their councils to reconsider and review the original 2013 decisions as the claimants maintain those original decisions were made in error of law, which they were, councils are also deep in the brown smelly stuff as their previous statement of reasons confirm they acted in error of law.

In summary when I said in my first two posts that the UT decision is perverse and is an elephant’s arse (not merely a dog’s breakfast or pig’s ear) and when I say the ruling is full of contradiction and frankly inept and the judge has tried to be far too clever by half…..I was merely underestimating just how bad this decision is.

Go back to those standard letters sent out in early 2013.  What did your council say in return?

  • There is no definition of bedroom we don’t have to define? – Error of law
  • It is up to the landlord? – Error of law
  • Go back and ask your landlord – Error of law
  • We will only review if the landlord reclassifies? – Error of law

Yes reader your council and that means every council across the country all used the above excuses as simply choosing to believe the landlords word was the cheapest option for them – and they are all errors of law as part of what I have said all along, that the decision-making process was a sham.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The perverse bedroom tax UT decision – why its wrong and why the judge should go!

The Bedroom tax lead case in the Upper Tribunal produced a perverse and farcical decision and a decision which unilaterally failed to meet its terms of reference.

The case had the following abstract

UTleadcase

As you can see this is sourced on the official site and that abstract and terms of reference were still there at 8.28pm today Friday 5th December 2014 and the decision was handed down on Wednesday 26th November some 9 days previous. (Why it then took a week or so to get to the parties is another matter!!)

The terms of reference were threefold:

  1. To decide what a bedroom is by virtue of size
  2. To decide what a bedroom is by virtue of usage
  3. To decide whether the space standards are relevant – i.e. the 1985 Housing Act (1987 Act in Scotland)

YET it did NOT decide any of the above and unilaterally failed in its purpose as stated in the abstract and terms of reference.

The decision fudged the issue of a minimum size that a room has to be in order to be determined to be a bedroom.  The decision fudged the issue of what is a bedroom by usage and fudged the ‘read across.  It failed to issue definitive rulings on all the above.

No doubt the UT knew the political importance of this decision and they remark on that in the decision and this is a heavily politicised decision which seeks to avoid a definitive ruling until after the May 2015 General Election as the bedroom tax would then become a key electoral issue.  This is a political fudge and a decision rife for appeal on so many arguable points of law.

The UT set out their stall and their approach in paragraph [3] -

The central issue of law in these appeals relates to the approach that should be taken to determine what is a bedroom for the purposes of the Amended Housing Benefit Regulations.

Straight away we can see that how you define the term ‘bedroom’ is the central issue in any appeal onn the Amended HB Regulations (i.e the bedroom tax).  The UT was fully away of its terms of reference as I point out above.  I note that they say what approach ‘should be taken’ and not approach must be taken, which in and of itself is wishy washy and lacks definition.

Yet the real issue is what approach they did take which is perverse and rife for legal challenge as everything they say following their approach is premised on that approach and everything turns on it.  So when they say their approach on HOW to define the central issue of the ordinary word bedroom is “….the word normally defies definition” which they cite at [20] from Lord UpJohn in the case of Customs and Excise Commissioners v Top Ten Promotions [1969] 1 WLR 1163, the UT were setting themselves up to fall and fail in meeting their terms of reference.

You cant decide what a bedroom is by saying it is the central issue of law and then say we choose an archaic case which says it can’t be defined!  This smacks of a predetermined view being written as a deliberate obfuscation and fudge and then finding an obscure and archaic citation to justify that fudge.

The same Upper Tribunal in the Bolton case of 2013 determined the word ‘bedroom’ has its ordinary English language meaning and therefore can be defined.  That case used an amalgam of different dictionary definitions to arrive at a decision on what is a bedroom.  It cited the well-known legal case of Brutus v Cozens [1973] to say this literal meaning was the way to define bedroom. Note well this is 4 years after the UpJohn version.

Argued before the UT by the DWP was that this literal definition (Brutus) was wrong to adopt and rather as the purpose of the bedroom tax was to save money the correct approach should be a contextual one such as Pepper v Hart [1992] and/or R v Quintavalle [2005].  Note well here neither side argued that the term ‘bedroom’ could not be defined and yet the Upper Tribunal pull the UpJohn approach like a rabbit out of a hat to say it can’t be defined.

Highly convenient and rife for appeal as the rest of the decision all stems from this archaic premise and definition of a non-definable definition of the ordinary English word bedroom.

It is all the more perverse a basis or premise for the ensuing decision when the UT state at [33]that the case put forward by lawyers for the Secretary of State of a bedroom “…does not fit with its ordinary or familiar meaning.”  How can an approach based on something that cannot be defined then result in a view that one parties description of a bedroom does not meet its ordinary or familiar meaning?

How can something have an ordinary and familiar meaning if it is not capable of definition in the first place?

To be fair to the UT judges whatever approach they did adopt of those mentioned above it would open up arguable legal grounds of appeal, yet the UpJohn approach is by far the most perverse and most irrational.  It goes against the 3 later approached at construction and interpretation of an ordinary language term and why I refer to it as ‘archaic’ and also goes against the Upper Tribunal ruling made less than a year ago on the construction and definition of the precise ordinary term ‘bedroom’ and not any general definition of a word such as ‘idiosyncrasy’ or indeed ‘elephant!’

Elephant – yes this decision is the biggest elephant in the room and as well as failing to meet its terms of reference and then, perversely saying it is not definable but we will define it, but only in the vaguest possible terms and then say this approach at [23]”…reflects the old adage that it is difficult to define an “elephant” but we know one when we see one and so we can explain why we think we have seen one by describing what we have seen” is beyond perversity.

Excuse this anecdote in what it meant to be a rational discussion of the law and fact here yet about 12 years ago my ex partners relative were over from Australia. I gave my partners highly intelligent 15 year old niece a lift up to her great grandmothers and just out of the car and she screams “There’s a huge weird rat!” It was a squirrel! They don’t have squirrels in Australia so she clearly did not know what the hell she had just seen, though she knew what an elephant was! I am also 100% sure she knew what a reasonable definition of a bedroom was and is too.

That perverse view of we know one when we see one is also perverse as it infers that in order to impose the bedroom tax the decision maker’s in councils need to go out and see for themselves whether a room is a bedroom or not and BEFORE they can make the bedroom tax decision, remembering here that the under occupation charge can ONLY be levied on a bedroom and not on any other room.

Yet the decision fails to decide WHAT a bedroom is.

How can you have a decision making process which says that the council decision maker MUST decide what a bedroom is BEFORE it then imposes the under occupation charge / bedroom tax / reduction in Housing Benefit entitlement and despite saying that in the SI which enacted it, the UT fail to even consider it?

Instead of looking to the SI which introduced the bedroom tax as to the intent of parliament they choose bizarrely to be swayed by a perverse comment from Lord Freud at [54].  Yet SI 3040 of 2012 says:

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 was said, agreed and signed off by….Lord Freud in the legislation. Yet the UT here prefer to be swayed by what he said in the House of Lords 2 months earlier than the legislation he enacted and signed off.  That is thoroughly perverse and frankly incompetent.  The legislation sets out a process which says the local authority must determine how many bedrooms each property has and THEN, that is after that point, determine whether or not to impose the deduction.  Yet this UT decision fails completely to discuss or consider that point.

There is an intention to do so as [6] says “Under occupation” is defined by reference to the ‘bedroom criteria.” Hence the need to identify what is a bedroom.”  The decision then goes on to restate regulation B13(2) which says the same as the SI extract above yet only focuses on the housing need or how many bedrooms (however defined) the claimant’s household is permitted.  This decision absolutely fails to address the other side of that equation in what a bedroom actually is!

That is a huge error in the thinking of the Upper Tribunal here and one that again is ripe for appeal.  It also helps explain my point that this decision was predetermined for other reasons and agendas and then somebody conveniently found the archaic UpJohn approach that allows this predetermined view one iota of credence.  The fact that 99% of it doesn’t hold water shows the paucity of thinking in this truly perverse decision.

I could go on and on with so many more perversities and perverse here means the decision was legally perverse and contains so many arguable errors of law that a squirrel or an elephant could argue legally and get permission for this to be appealed.  Yet that is the issue.

This decision in practical terms holds and can and will be used by councils and tribunals to prevent legitimate bedroom tax appeals being heard.  It can be read so many ways and simply provides excuse for many tribunal judges who don’t want to hear and decide such cases many of whom have made inept decisions and very poor legal decisions, admittedly both ways.

This decision even alludes to that when it says at [3] “Although we were not referred to them we are aware that a number of different approaches have been taken by First-tier Tribunals”  They have indeed some good, some bad and some truly bloody awful ones, though of course the UT is not going to say that just as it does not say in the decision but did say at the hearing it is troubled by the number of other cases stayed to this UT hearing both winning and losing cases at FtT.

The UT judges were clearly not happy at the scores of cases being stayed to this case as they did give them a virtually impossible task of making this case a true lead case and determine definitive precedence or meeting its terms of reference.  Yet that is no excuse for this perverse decision which may see legitimate appellants at FtT first having to persuade the tribunal to hear a case over an alleged but clearly not a bedroom of 27 square feet.

This decision WILL regrettably see some tribunal judges issue Directions Notice upon Directions Notice saying the lead case of UKUT 0525 (AAC) [2014] means that you can’t appeal on room size or room usage as some tribunal judges are looking for any reason, however incompetent and without legal merit, to prevent hearings going ahead at FtT.  Whether that is out of political reasons or just incompetence that is going on, has gone on and will continue to go on.

This legally perverse decision only gives more power to these small number of judges and puts yet another stumbling block in the way of legitimate appeals by tenants and of course defies the remit of the Tribunal to give natural justice and also breaches its ‘overriding objective’ to hear cases and hear cases in that way.

If anyone is under any illusion that IDS wont be smiling at this despite the UT describing his argument as to what is a bedroom as absurd and a tenant would need to “…jump from a passage through an outward opening door to get into bed (and) would have nowhere to put clothes..” [33] even more ridiculous which it is then think again.  IDS will look at this and realise many tenants will be ever more dissuaded from appealing and councils will also dissuade more claimants from appealing too.

There is likely no time for a new lead case before the GE and despite this perverse decision giving so many grounds to produce an appeal on its many perversities such an appeal won’t happen before the GE and that is the real reason IDS will be smiling.  There will be no political adversity from the bedroom tax as there would have been if these UT judges had the balls to say as a bare minimum that a bedroom needs to be at least 50 square feet in floor size and say so definitively.  There will be at least 5% of all bedroom tax households with alleged ‘bedrooms’ of under 50 square feet.

Those minimum 25,000 households have had the bedroom tax wrongly imposed and this UT decision deliberately avoided making a definitive ruling even on that pokey size which is 25% less than the minimum size of a bedroom laid down 100 year ago in the Tudor Walters report which this decision mentions as a mere ‘warning bell’ yet fails to rule as they should and as any reasonable person would say is not a bedroom.

The UT bottled it and capitulated to the political sensitivity they admitted to knowing and which they said at [6] “…has been a matter of great public controversy.”

I say all the above from full sight and consideration of the papers before this UT and not just from the copy I have of the decision.  It is all too easy to highlight the errors of law and perversities in this decision and the huge contradictions in it and how they unilaterally failed to meet the terms of reference set and which they themselves admitted.  It is even easier to say they bottled it and were cowards this festive season – The Noel Cowards in the title.

Yet all this perverse decision has done is bring a smile to IDS’s face and make it much harder for those appealing and more confusing for that that have and create a God almighty mess of the entire appeal process for tenant, landlord, council and tribunal judge.

Happy Noel Cowards!

 

________________________________

After drafting the above which involves much criticism of the judges I then looked at researching any information on past decisions they had made.  Oh dear the very learned Joshua Rozenberg had this to say about the chair of this UT panel Mr Justice Charles back in 2011.  Mr Justice Charles is president of the Administrative Appeals Chamber – the AAC which decided this case.  The article by Joshus Rozenberg was titled “High Court judges with poor judgement should stand down.”

In my earlier quick post on this UT case I said the judgment was inarticulate and brought a new phrase into the lexicon of bad decisions to sit with pig’s ear and dog’s breakfast, this being an elephant’s arse. That was, as the above is, my opinion yet nice to know that three years ago a fine legal mind was saying pretty much the same about the (in)ability of the President of the Upper Tribunal AAC!

In another legal blog we see this

Joshua Rosenberg has pointed out the Court of Appeal’s criticisms of Mr Justice Charles, who is apparently “the most appealed-against judge in the High Court Family Division and the one whose judgments are overturned the most”. Lord Justice Wilson said that he had spent days trying to understand the 484-paragraph judgment delivered by Mr Justice Charles, and quoted barrister Ashley Murray who had said in Family Law:

“There are certain challenges each of us should attempt in our lifetime and for most these involve a particular jump, a mountain climb, etc. Akin to these in the legal world would be reading from first to last a judgment of Mr Justice Charles.”

To which Lord Justice Wilson commented: “Mr Murray’s introductory sentences were witty and brave. In respect at any rate of the judgment in the present case, they were also, I am sorry to say, apposite.” Excellent stuff.

It would seem that any reading of the Rozenberg piece that you cant sack a judge even when their competence is questioned and questionable, you can only move them away from making high profile dangerous and legally embarrassing decisions.  You can only move them on in the hope they cause less high profile damage elsewhere – a bit like the old adage about management being applied to the judiciary – they are like a septic tank, the big chunks rise to the top!

 

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