Beans – what landlords count while their tenants survive on them

Over the past few years I have been looking critically at the welfare reform policies of the coalition and especially the impacts they have on housing.  I have always believed that reform means to improve and a quick check in the dictionary confirms that.

The bedroom tax has until now had most attention and it is two years ago this month that I first advocated tenants should appeal against it and some 7 months before it come into operation.  Before that I warned strongly that the overall benefit cap was being largely ignored by social landlords who (a) believed it largely only affected high rent areas and the PRS when 46% of households affected lived in social housing; and (b) that it contained a systemic flaw which would see more households every year hit by the cap as the cap figures of £350 / £500 per week increased at a much slower rate than welfare benefits and especially rent rises.

Yet the biggest issue for social housing in the welfare reforms (sic) was always the payment of housing benefit direct to the tenant and not to the landlord, known as direct payments.  Direct payments put the social tenant IN CONTROL of the payment or not of rent whereas before HB was invariably paid to the landlord direct and it must be said the social tenant was more than happy with this.

It is this loss of control that sees the great and the good of social housing not needing to take natural senna and Corporal Jones of Dad’s Army fame is calm by comparison to the responses of these great and good which have been inept with all welfare reform policies but especially so and dangerously so with regard to direct payments.

The spectre of direct payments produces the same lack of business thinking that the bedroom tax and benefit cap see, it produces a dangerous level of ineptitude and bad practice and unlawful practice very much in evidence this past week, and so much so that even the uber conservative CIH has warned landlords about unduly pressurising the social tenant.

All the welfare reform policies focus the social landlord mind on its finances.  The risk to arrears from the bedroom tax, the higher arrears risk with the benefit cap and with no mitigation there outside of splitting up a family of 2 parents with 6 children into 2 households of 1 parent and 3 children each all impact on landlord bottom lines.

Much of this financial risk has been contained but largely due to the Affordable (sic) Rent  model (hereafter called AR) which in 2012/13, the year before the bedroom tax and benefit cap implementation, saw 38,000 or so AR products being let at much higher rents to give an additional rental income of roughly £95 million per year and then the bedroom tax itself had a monumental cock up by government in the pre 1996 issue which saw a further £30 or so million being repaid to about 40,000 households.

As more and more AR units come to market the offsetting of welfare reform arrears risk is even more mitigated for the social landlord as even more additional rental income each year is produced.

Yet direct payment is an entirely different kettle of fish.  It puts the tenant in control of the payment of rent and takes that control away from the social landlord.  In the bedroom tax landlords still got between 75% and 86% of the rent paid directly depending on whether the tenant had a 14% or 25% bedroom tax deduction.

Landlords with the bedroom tax only had to chase this 14% or 25% of the rent yet with direct payments they need to chase 100% of the rent.

In a nutshell the entire dynamic of paying rent changes as tenants gain control and landlords lose control and this is THE most radical change that social housing faces from the welfare reform policies.  It changes social housing and it changes the landlord/tenant relationship forever.  Landlords now do have to have full regard for their tenants and the tenant changes from being a captive customer to one with much more choices.  Direct payment is a seismic shift in this relationship between tenant and landlord and one that has rightly got landlords worried.

But let me first explain the ‘captive’ customer that the tenant is ahead of direct payment as landlords often call the social tenant a customer and wrongly.  If you have ever baulked at paying £4 for a single sausage at a motorway service station or for paying £3.50 for a bottle of water on a Ryanair or Easyjet flight you are a captive customer, the customer of no choice.  The tenant because they mostly can’t move freely or quickly cannot change their housing provider – the landlord – like they could change their supermarket or other consumer choice.

Despite homeswapper dating clubs and social landlords regionally getting together to promote home swaps or taking down constraints to moving such as in Merseyside and elsewhere over arrears greater than £250 for example, the social tenant is still a captive customer, they are still on that Ryanair flight after stopping en route to the airport at a motorway service station to pay 50% more for a Burger King or MCDonalds or KFC. And of course the captive customer has paid triple the price for the flight in school holidays than they would a week before or after.  The captive customer that gets shafted in terms of holidays is no different to the social tenant as customer.

Yet now these captive customers will have full control over the payment of rent and they will judge their provider (former name landlord) in the same way they judge all providers and the often poor customer service they have had previously from their landlord is going to play a huge part in whether and in how much they pay the rent.

The captive social tenant will be liberated, set free and able to make a choice.  Landlords, sorry housing providers, will have to compete for their pound in the same way supermarkets do and all other competing demands do.  The payment of rent is not only inevitably going to fall at Christmas and other peak expenditure times and is not only going to be sporadic rather than every 4 weeks on the dot for landlords to easily manage cash flow, it is also going to markedly change due to what the tenant who is now not the captive customer feels about their landlord.

I have been urging social landlords to financially support their tenants to appeal the bedroom tax as an example of good business practice.  Not only does a winning tenant see the landlord rent level stay the same and ongoing HB payments are higher and a sizeable back payment of HB happen when a tenant wins appeal and be a great financial benefit to the landlord, the same landlord also builds up very positive goodwill in their tenants and that will translate into a higher degree of rent payment once direct payment comes in.

By contrast the landlord that has bombarded the bedroom tax tenant with red-inked letters, that has their officers doorstep tenants, that has bombarded the tenant with phone call and email and text message in order to pay the bedroom tax gets no goodwill; and simply stores up tenant resentment and perplexed resentment too as landlords have always stood four square behind their tenants in the past.

There is a solid and very valid business argument there and there always has been to support tenants to appeal the sham policy and sham decision making evident in the bedroom tax.  Yet rather than the social landlord looking at that and even contemplating whether to say ah ok let’s draw a line in the sand – the usual sophistry for yes you’re right we cocked up but we’re not admitting it publicly – social landlords have taken the opposite path and not learned from their mistakes and are making this even worse by compounding those mistakes.

The arrogance of their ineptitude as well as the ineptitude itself knows no bounds.

The national press, the housing trade press and social media have all published articles in the last week over coercive practices in landlords demanding tenants already hit with the bedroom tax pay even more so as to be a month in advance on their rent ahead of UC.  Over unlawful practice such as a landlord refusing to pay tenants their money back when their rent accounts go into credit.  And bizarre, gimmicky and dangerous practice such as we will only communicate with tenants via digital means.  Even the notoriously conservative CIH have cautioned social landlords over this and that it truly saying something.

Social landlords should take a look at Facebook (or indeed the anger over the gimmicks in comments on Inside Housing) and see in light of the litany of coercive, dangerous and unlawful practices above and see just how virulently tenants feel about this.  The ratchet of tenant opprobrium for social landlords has increased by ten notches this past week and such tenants have elephantine memories, or in very simple terms they prove the old adage that it takes 20 years to build a good reputation and 5 minutes to lose it all.

That lack of goodwill will undoubtedly transfer to the tenant’s willingness to prioritise the payment of rent when direct payment comes in and landlords arrogance in believing it won’t and that they hold all the aces or they can hoodwink the tenant simply beggars belief.

This pay your rent or else strategy sees the tenant not as a captive customer but a knowledgeable one and one informed by the rapid spread of social media.  The tenant knows the average eviction costs the landlord many thousands of pounds and somewhere close to £7,000 or so and hence a £1000 or more of arrears is a bargaining tool whereas before most tenants were afraid of going a few hundred pounds in arrears.

The direct payment tenant will become like a petulant child pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable or perhaps a better analogy is the customer with his first credit card and religiously paying off the balance each and every month, at first, but then lapsing into not doing so and unlike Mastercard and Visa landlord’s don’t charge interest, rent arrears become the cheapest form of credit anyone?

Tenants, sorry customers, with HB paid direct to them will have more money at their disposal and have more choices on which to spend it, and those choices will be informed by what they can get away with and what they think of their housing provider.  Note that term ‘housing provider’ which is what the now misnamed social landlord will become and not even move from social landlord to mere landlord, they will just become the housing provider.

The other radical theme in the welfare reform policies is they deal with people and not with bricks and mortar.  They (allegedly) incentivise the social tenant to change behaviours such as working a few more hours or taking in a lodger or downsizing, all of which are personal behaviour change.  Yet this nudge theory also means social landlords have to know their tenant’s likely responses and prior to welfare reforms they never had to know and still don’t know.  Instead of social landlords looking within housing to supported housing which does deal with people and always has, the general needs social landlord that has always dealt not with people but with bricks and mortar kept their focus on bricks and mortar.

In supported housing, that complex (and too much bloody trouble niche?) of housing, dealing with some very vulnerable and often chaotic residents sees being firm but fair as far and away the best strategy.  Yet general needs landlords bombarding general needs tenants with red inked letters, doorstepping and other bombarding is firm and firm and does not work.  It merely builds up later resentments which as I outline above will have far reaching consequences.  As much as landlords have tried to pigeonhole bedroom tax tenants into cant and wont payers their actions have mostly been all along the all tenants are wont payers and been far too firm and with little flexibility or scope for being fair.

Supported housing professionals do KNOW how people behave and respond as it is a central theme of their job.  Yet the general needs housing professional is now in that situation of not knowing what the tenant will do and the same general needs housing professional (sic?) is the one who thinks that supported housing is that too much bloody trouble niche of social housing and also because of the arrogance of the general needs housing professional wouldn’t dream of consulting the supported housing professional despite them having the answers needed.

If you can persuade your ‘client’ that the rent has to be paid before he or she can have the fix of any form of substance misuse they crave or get through to a totally innumerate supported housing resident the importance of paying rent over any other ‘priority’ they may have, then persuading the general needs tenant to pay their rent as a priority to keep a roof over their heads is pretty simple by comparison.  People buy from people and the supported tenant has a relationship of trust with his support worker and vice versa – the same trust that is now lacking between the general needs tenant and landlord because the general needs landlord does not know people or how to deal or talk WITH them and rather talks AT them and continues to lose this necessary trust.

Many of the answers for social landlords can be found within if they consult supported housing professionals who are used to dealing with people.  Yet social landlords are either too stupid or too arrogant to realise that, and probably a bit of both, and are dogmatic creatures of the “we have always done it this way” school.  Instead of treating tenants as the enemy and believing they will ‘waste’ their benefit on not paying rent once UC direct payments hits, housing providers / social landlords need to finally start to think and ask themselves what welfare reform means…and then think about it again…and even heaven forfend consult with supporting housing professionals….some truly earth shatteringly radical landlords may realise that they should even speak WITH tenants too.

Yet the only tablets landlords will take are the gimmicky freebies some allegedly innovative ones wishes to give away in return for their ‘customers’ giving up their rights.

This pathetic ill-thought through response continues the worrying trend very evident since the welfare reforms began of Finance Directors panicking about the bottom line and about the bottom line and about the superficial bottom line dictating landlord approaches to welfare reform – the same people who count beans and never meet their tenants who are forced to survive on them as a staple meal.

The tenant is not the landlords enemy that landlord Finance Directors believe, the real enemy to landlords is landlord’s Finance Directors holding sway over rational thought

Follow the dig – i – tal road from the Swizzard of Boss

Altogether now

Follow the dig – i – tal road, follow the dig – i – tal road, follow, follow, follow, follow, follow the dig – i – tal road.

If ever a swizz of a swizz there was, the Atkin plan is one because, because, because, because, because because…because its an OCD plan of boss….

We’re off to see the lawyers to outline the swizz here of boss!

Communication is a one way street according to Nick Atkin the Chief Executive of Halton Housing Trust and only applies in his bizarre thinking between tenant and landlord.  How the tenant contacts us (and not how we communicate with tenants whom he calls customers too!) has been uppermost in his geeky-gadget-fixated-digital-media-is-the-universal-panacea-and-they-can-even-cure-cancer mind for a long time now.

You cannot fail to see how Nick is all over Twitter extolling the praises of the latest bit of kit that allows the HHT tenant who is a one-legged Peruvian glue sniffer off on a sojourn to discover the last remote tribe in inner Borneo to pay his rent or report a repair and how this method is £0.0000005p cheaper per decade than him using a satellite phone or even coming into the offices of HHT; which, by the way, are on a remote industrial estate and as far away from HHT tenants as they possibly could be and only accessible by car!

Yet is all too easy to parody Nick Atkin as the Darling Advocate of Facebook and Twitter, or DAFT or as a technology geek or as much of a zealot for gadgets as IDS is a zealot for the bedroom tax or even the latest in a long line of housing CEOs who deliberately create a cult of personality around themselves and seek to portray how innovative and radical they are.

Take away these dazzling clothes and we see the reality of what is underneath – a landlord seeking to deny tenants their rights and a landlord seeking to blame tenants and a landlord trying to force through his will onto his tenants.

Inside Housing reports on Nick’s wheeze which is to give 250 tenants the cheapest tablet possible so they can ONLY contact the landlord this way.  These 250 tenants or less than 4% of all HHT tenants will ONLY be able to contact HHT via these devices.  They cannot write or email or phone or come into the (remote) HHT offices they can ONLY communicate with HHT via these devices.  HHT presumably are able to still contact the tenant by mail or email or letter or phone call or by suitably HHT liveried carrier pigeon.

HHT are seeking to make it conditional for the receipt of one of these tablets that tenants can ONLY communicate that way and I would strongly question the legality of that.

HHT cannot undermine or override the tenants rights they have under the contract that is a tenancy agreement. Tenancy agreements contain the rights and responsibilities of landlord and tenant and they cannot be ridden roughshod over by this gimmick called the Digital Deal.  In fact I would strongly advise any tenant to use 40% of their digits on their preferred hand as a communication to this offer.

However should HHT agree to only communicate with tenants this way – which of course they have not – then tenants could simply sign up and not bother paying any rent as HHT could not serve a Notice Seeking Possession this way!  I’m not advocating that of course but it explains the crass thinking behind this scheme.  When we recognise that landlords have to communicate in non digital ways such as the NSP example then we have to recognise that so do tenants.  Yet this bizarre ill-considered plan seeks as a precondition to deny the tenant their contractual and legal rights.

If the tenant wishes to make a complaint I am sure HHT has a digital or online complaint method yet the tenant has an absolute right to file a complaint to its landlord in writing and it is good practice to make a complaint in writing so that you have a copy of it and you don’t get embroiled in the “I don’t recall that conversation” deflection and other similar matters.

Here is what Nick Atkin says about the tenants who he refers to as customers in the IH article published today:

“If somebody is just saying they can’t be bothered to go online, we won’t take their enquiry, because it means to do so would take resources from somebody else who is vulnerable and needs support.”

The first thing that came to mind when reading that was who the hell does Nick Atkin think he is!  Yet this is not personal and that is a perfectly valid statement.  Nick Atkin is saying the landlord of which he is the Chief Executive will DENY the right of the tenant to contact their landlord in whatever way they see fit.  Such a statement and so assertively stated to, seeks ONLY to deny the tenant their right and nothing is more revealing of his blind zealous adherence to the digital only route.

The tenant may love the idea of a free tablet and may also love the idea of being trained on how to use it and will love the idea of HHT paying for the internet access too.  However, and as much gloss and spin as Nick Atkin puts on this and as much as the theory behind it to educate tenants on digital matters is to be welcomed, Nick Atkin cannot deny the tenant their absolute rights to be able to communicate with their landlord through whatever means they may wish to do so, reasonably or even what may be considered unreasonably by paying their rent by writing a cheque on the side of a cow should they wish to do so!

This is all about HHT saving money and preparing for Universal Credit as Nick Atkin explains in the article that “...the initiative will enable the trust to collect £20m or rent payments that wlll go directly to tenants under as part of universal credit, without hiring significant numbers of extra staff.”  (Yes that doesn’t read well at all but is what the article says!)

I have no problem whatsoever with landlords seeking to make plans to deal with the vicissitudes of Universal Credit and particularly the nightmare direct payments of benefit to the tenant and not as now to the landlord this creates.  Halton neighbours Warrington where this has been in place for some time and so Nick Atkin will be well aware of the horrors this creates from Peter Fitzhenry his counterpart at Golden Gates Housing in Warrington in an article here which reveals that two full-time staff were needed just to chase the pig’s ear that the DWP made of just 40 tenant UC accounts – or an additional £1500 per year per tenant in rent collection costs!!

Yes that’s £30 per week per tenant and Nick Atkin is seeking to give tenants a £30 tablet to avoid this cost.

Yet what happens when HHT tenants see that DWP UC’s up their rent payments which they will?  Will tenants stressed to buggery with the constant ineptitude of this and constant time this takes to sort out because of that ineptitude and because UC is a huge UC-up even in theory, end up throwing the tablet against the wall and telling HHT to shove them where the sun don’t shine?

I suspect this possibility has not gone through the gadget-fixated head of Nick and his fellow Yellow Brick Roaders clutching at straws and having the brains of the scarecrow.  Nick is seeking to click his red heels more in line with Il Duce rather than Dorothy here in enforcing the panacea of digital change -that’s Universal Credit Universal Panacea or UCUP – onto his ‘customers’ and seeking to hide that this is all about denying tenant rights of communicating with HHT which of course is decidedly very dodgy in legal terms too.

If I appear to be the Luddite Wicked Witch of the East here reader but there are some very genuine concerns for tenants in this which Nick Atkin and HHT are attempted to wash over.  Still at least HHT tenants get a good song out of it all eh?

Follow the dig – i -tal road, follow the dig – i – tal road and follow the Pied Piper of Halton on his merry way too!

The article also says that 14% of HHT tenants do not have internet access yet HHT revealed yesterday in a ….yes you’ve guessed it reader… a tweet!… that this is in fact much higher at 33% or more than double what they are saying today!!

hhtdigital

That graphic exposes the reality.  HHT as landlord will give the HHT tenant a free tablet so that HHT can take your full rent out of the UC payment you receive.  I would imagine the probable 1500+ bedroom tax affected tenants HHT has out of the 2,148 across Halton will be disturbed at this thought as many are what landlords calls ‘cant payers’ and not ‘wont payers':

Yet if you dear tenant do not allow your benevolent landlord to do this then he will take back his benevolent gesture of allowing you to watch cats fart as they go round on a turntable on YouTube to which you have become so accustomed thanks to this wondrous benevolence of your landlord!

Follow the dig – i -tal road…all together now!

 

 

 

 

Squeeze the tenant dry – the latest cunning landlord stunt?

Last weekend  the Guardian ran a piece about social landlords response to Universal Credit. They want their tenants – and note the possessive language they always use their tenants, which is why a tenant can never be a customer as they are captive and can’t move – to make additional rent payments to be one month in advance.

Let me put that into some perspective reader as aside from tenants struggling to even keep up with rent due to the bedroom tax and benefit cap and a range of other welfare cuts this would mean the UK’s housing associations sitting on about £1.68 billion of tenants money.

4.2 million rents at an average of £400 per calendar month is £1.68 billion which is what social landlords want to squeeze out of their tenants.

Notwithstanding the fact that the vast majority of tenancy agreements are weekly tenancies and tenants need to be a week in advance, social landlords are seeking to squeeze the tenants for a further 3.33 weeks of rent between now and UC coming online or in other words paying lip service to their own tenancy agreements as legally binding contracts!

£1.68 billion!

Yes – and to use the Tory language for them – the subsidised housing sector who are subsidised to the tune of £1.125 billion per year now want a further £1.68 billion in subsidy from their tenants.  Or put another way for every 2 new homes they bring to market from government subsidy they now want their tenants to give them the money to provide 3 new properties for every 2 the taxpayer gives them.

What a novel way to treat the tenant as the easiest form of finance.  The government wont give us the money – in fact the coalition cut it in half – so let’s treat the tenant as even more of a cash cow!!

capital funding

Above as you can see the coalition cut the subsidy down from £2.1 billion per year down to £1.125 billion  (the £4.5 bn is over 4 years) or almost in half.  Then Incompetent Despotic Shyster launches Universal Credit which seeks in his words to bring those on benefit in line with those in work by paying them a month in arrears hence panic by social landlords.

Aside from the fact that nobody appears to have challenged Incompetent Despotic Shyster on the fact the workers are paid half monthly in arrears half monthly in advance, IDS’s plans really do UC up social landlords cash flow and sustainability and of course come on top of the halving of capital subsidy….yes that subsidy of £1.125 billion per year that produces a saving of over £4 billion per year through lower rents and forces social housing to accommodate all the SODS (Sick Old Disabled Supported) that the great God of the market, the private rented sector refuse to accommodate.

And why haven’t social landlords sold those points…oh silly me that’s called marketing and lobbying…move on Joe!

Of course as much as social landlords may WANT social tenants to increase payments now to be a month in advance in time for the great UC up of IDS’s welfare reform crusade – yes that one that even his own government refuse to sanction (oops irony!) as it is so ill-considered – tenants have a legally binding tenancy agreement to be one week in advance not 4.33 weeks or a month in advance.

Still landlords trying to milk the social tenant leaves a sour taste in my mouth…oh sorry THEIR tenants…you know the ones they like to call customers!!

The Guardian article mentioned a few more cunning stunts that landlords seeking to make one of which I reported on yesterday in that they may have stolen up to £27 million of tenants money which could end up costing then double that at about £55 million – so just another one of their cunning stunts and yet another example of the wonderful customer service ethos they have!

What a brilliant business strategy this is eh reader?  Antagonise and severely piss off the customer you have taken for granted for decades just ahead of the very same ‘customer’ taking full CONTROL of the payment of rent with direct payment of housing benefit to the tenant and not to the landlord.  What hare-brained buffoons inhabit the senior management of social landlords. What near-sighted incompetents think this is a good business idea!

The same buffoons constantly remind us of how prepared they are for the welfare reforms and how considered their responses are to it as of course the great and the good of social housing are immune to any form of criticism!

Isn’t Universal Credit that much of a cock-up already without social landlord responses like this making it so much worse…for social landlords? Then again place three shovels against a wall and tell the landlords to take his pick is enough to bamboozle their business brain eh!

Rant over? Yes for now. But I doubt this is the last cunning plan from the cunning stunts in the lead up to tenants taking CONTROL over the payment of rent do you reader?

Have landlords ‘stolen’ £27m from the bedroom tax tenant??

Have social landlords ‘stolen’ £27.65 million from their bedroom tax tenants?

5 months ago in March 2014 I take a bedroom tax appeal case for a tenant.  The case wins as two of the purported bedrooms were too small and the council (Wirral MBC) pays the bedroom tax back to the tenants landlord (R).  This was the case I reported on here in which the council’s presenting officer told the landlord they had a nerve to call the property a 3 bed property.

Wirral council also paid some DHP to the tenants landlord in 2013/14 and despite admitting in writing that the council has no legal basis to claw back these DHP payments it sends an invoice to the landlord for them to pay the DHP back to the council.

The landlord should refuse to pay this request for a number of reasons.  Firstly, this is not an overpayment.  Secondly, the councils has no right to claim this money back.  Thirdly, the landlord would be paying the tenants money to the council without any authorisation from the tenant to do so.

The circumstances in which a DHP is recoverable 

dhprecovery

If the landlord R pays the councils invoice the tenants rent account will be debited with this amount and the tenant who is rightfully expecting the credit on her account to be paid to her will have no cheque forthcoming from the landlord – the landlord who will have paid the tenants money to the council and without the tenants consent and paid it back to the councils despite the council not having any lawful entitlement to this money back.

Or in simple terms the council is a sneaky bar steward and the landlord is an incompetent bar steward and the tenant is just the poor bar steward being shafted.

If the landlord has indeed paid the DHP monies back the council then they must also credit the tenants account with that money too as they have no right to pay the tenants money to the council.

Also if Wirral MBC has received DHP monies back from 2013/14 financial year then it must pay this back to central government as it is money not spent within 2013/14 financial year – which of course begs the question why did Wirral MBC seek to recover this money in the first place!!  That also means all the ‘moral’ arguments that a tenant should not benefit from the pre 1996 loophole (ie cock-up) and that DHPs could then go further to other needy cases is fundamentally flawed too.

What a mess!

Of course should the tenant not receive her monies back, so she can at least afford to put the heating on this winter which she couldn’t do last year and her health suffered because of it, then I will be taking this case up with the landlord on her behalf and naming and shaming that landlord here (here there and everywhere to be exact).

So landlord R it’s up to you to decide.

To all other social landlords sent invoice by their councils for DHPs paid to tenants do not pay them.  If you have already and many of you will have done with pre 1996 cases then I will be coming after you too.  As I say above the councils do not have a right to claim back DHPs paid to a successful appeal case or a pre 1996 case so if you are one of those landlords not only have you paid this money back, you are also going to have to pay that money back to your tenants account and issue any credit should the tenant ask you for it.

Why social landlords didn’t take 2 minutes to ask themselves is the council entitled to this money back in the first place beggars belief.  To merely assume the council must have a right to ask for it or merely assume that a DHP is recoverable in the same way as a hB overpayment is chronic ineptitude by social landlord rent teams.

Apart from this costing landlords double the incompetence of landlords not knowing the regulations on DHP it will also cock-up and invalidate any possession actions you have taken against tenants too.  Yes that’s further cost to social landlords but yet again brought on themselves by their incompetence.

Let’s stay on the costs and look at some numbers.  If all of the 40,000 or so pre 1996 cases had full DHPs paid from 1 April 2103 to 2 March 2014 and all landlords paid this back to councils the amount involved could be as much as 48 weeks x £14.40 x 40,000 cases – or £27.65 million.

The £14.40 per week is the national average bedroom tax cut in 2013/14 and the average pre 1996 is then 48 weeks of this or £691.20 above means if your landlord has paid your council this £691.20 to the council it also needs to pay back £691.20 to the tenants rent account.

The landlord can they try to get this back from the councils but not without a fight and if they hadn’t made this hasty error in the first place then they would not have to do this.

If I am right that the landlord has no right to pay tenant money back to councils and I am certain this is the case then landlords owe the tenant up to £27.65 million which they need to pay back into the tenants rent account as well.

For the landlord this means the bedroom tax DHP has up to a £55.3 million cost as the original £27.65m returned to councils together with the same further £27.65 million to tenants rent accounts!  Ouch!!

If you are a tenant who has won an appeal or a tenant who got back the pre 1996 money your council wrongfully deducted AND your landlord has returned a DHP in error resulting in that money taken out of your rent account then it is time to demand that money back from your landlord.

The DHP was awarded to the tenant rightly and claimed by the tenant in good faith and these DHP awards were correct and not made in error.  The error was in the HB decision not the DHP award and hence no claw back is possible under regulations.

In summary a chronic tale of DWP incompetence (pre 1996) local authority incompetence (pre 1996 and original bedroom tax decisions) and now landlord incompetence (returning the tenants money without any right or authority) and a costly one which won’t be borne by tenants despite them being the easy target for DWP. LA and landlord!!

Pre 1996 and appeal winning tenants should get a full rent statement from their landlord and if they see a payment going out and back to council then you need to be telling your landlord to put that amount back into your rent account. Then ask in writing for any credit back whilst remembering that as tenancies are a week in advance a balanced weekly tenancy is one that has you one weeks rent in credit and a monthly tenancy one with one months rent in credit.  Over and above that it is your money and if asked your landlord has to return it.

UPDATE

Over the weekend the Guardian ran a piece of Universal Credit stating landlords were asking tenants to make extra payments as UC payments will be received monthly in arrears.  This is linked to the above when it says:

In one case reported to the Observer, a tenant who was owed £362, after having paid the “bedroom tax” by mistake, was told by Town and Country that the money would not be reimbursed as it was in her “best interests” for it to “remain on your account” pending the introduction of universal credit, at an unknown future date.

What a landlord view of the ‘best interests’ of the tenant is has nothing at all to do with the legal position.  Any credit is the tenants money and landlords churned out such excuses not to repay this money such as the ‘best interests’ line taken by the landlord above.  I thought such bad and offensive practice had stopped but given the above Guardian article and the telephone calls I had today with the winning bedroom tax tenant it would seem not to be the case.  

Apart from anything else the landlords who do this are just creating more risk of arrears as their reputation with tenants goes down the toilet and when UC comes in with its direct payment of HB to the tenant such landlords will find ‘their’ tenants remembering all such dirty tricks and de-prioritise the payment of rent even more.  When I have long advocated that landlords should be supporting tenants to appeal the bedroom tax and rightly that the landlord wins too as rent levels stay the same and HB goes up and a back payment of HB is due – it also means tenants will make the payment of rent a higher priority when direct payments comes in to such forward thinking social landlords who do support tenants to appeal now.

Bedroom tax decision of all bedroom tax winning decisions? Just maybe!!

If you are separated from your children and you have a bedroom in your property where your child / children comes to stay and sleep you will be deemed as having a spare bedroom and hit with the bedroom tax. OR SO WE ARE TOLD

You will have been told that the child who lives with the parent who gets Child Benefit is the only one able to have a bedroom. OR SO WE ARE TOLD

NOT ANY LONGER!

A bedroom tax decision by a judge with a known expertise in human rights issues – and the tenant tells me the case was delayed and set aside for this experienced judge too – says:

“The Tribunal was satisfied it is possible, legally, for a person to occupy more than one place as their home at the same time.”

Note well this judge in a 13-page Statement of Reasons of very cogently argued judgment is well aware of leading cases of Swale, TD and Humphreys so this is not aberrant decision and he goes on to conclude on this successful Article 8 decision after much discussion of the issues that:

The Tribunal therefore finds that Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights requires the Tribunal to interpret ‘occupies the claimant’s dwelling as their home’ as including children like A who have regular staying over contact with their parent.  It is a matter of fact and degree as to what applies in a particular case but, for example, in A’s case it is a weekend once a month and blocks of time during all holiday periods..”

After a bit more discussion about approached to determining the issues the judge says:

The Tribunal is satisfied this test has nothing to do with who receives Child Benefit.

The above selective quoting is because it is taking some time to anonymise the full 13 pages of this Statement of Reasons and I will do so and publish them in full shortly and add to the bottom of this piece.

I have also deliberately included the references to Swale and TD and other leading cases to demonstrate to the HB experts and legal experts who read this that this is no ill-considered decision.

However I need to explain to the many tens of thousands of tenants and others who are not likely to be aware of the huge legal complexities of such an Article 8 challenge and to discuss what this decision means in simple terms.

Details

Father has 2 boys from 2 relationships and lives in the North East.  At the time of the bedroom tax decision his eldest son then 15 and a half lives with him in a 3 bed property.  The third bedroom stores the tenants weights and other stuff.  His son from a previous relationship lives in Scotland yet comes to stay one weekend a month and during school holidays for weeks at a time and this younger son considers he has two homes.  The 2 boys see themselves as brothers and both mothers are happy with the arrangement too – so credit to all involved.

However HB regulations being a blunt instrument only ‘allows’ for a person to occupy one home and so Dad is hit with a 14% deduction which the judge finds correct when the decision was made – and again emphasising that bedroom tax decisions are to be made on fact at the time the decision was made not 5 years before of what they may be in the future – yet says that in August 2013 the eldest son turned 16 and thus from that date the tenant is entitled to 3 bedrooms – 1 for himself, 1 for his adult son and 1 for the younger son who lives in Scotland (too) and is with dad one weekend a month and regularly for weeks on end in the school holidays.

This gives hope to every separated set of parents who share custody of their children and please excuse the expression but the absent father can have a bedroom counted for his visiting child or children.  There are tens of thousands of bedroom tax affected households in this situation being charged the bedroom tax for what they rightly see as their child’s bedroom.  Many view ‘human rights’ in a very simplistic moral context to say my human rights and that of my child are being taken away with the bedroom tax. – an argument that to now has in legal terms been a bit iffy to say the least (the Swale, TD and other cases I mention above).

Many councils have said also in crude simplistic terms it is only the parent who gets Child Benefit who is allowed a bedroom under the bedroom tax, not the ‘absent parent.’

YET this decision changes that and should encourage every ‘absent parent’ hit by the bedroom tax to launch an appeal on similar Article 8 grounds.

Some readers will recall another such judgment back in February that is similar from a case in Liverpool I reported here.  This was also covered on the Nearly Legal site (here) which rather put the dampers on it as there Giles Peaker and Peter Barker cited the Swale and TD cases etc.  I read these leading cases and still held an outside chance that because these ‘leading’ judgments were made without the huge difference the bedroom tax makes – that is the HB cut severely which hinders the absent parents financial ability to provide a bedroom for his or her child.

I commented to that effect below the Nearly Legal report on this, as did the knowledgeable Ruth Knox who I know well – and we both know the tenant in the Liverpool case too (and P I have lost your number and mine has changed so email me as I wanted yo to be the first to know of this.)

Yet the real praise needs to go to the tenant who took this case himself and what an absolutely fantastic job he did.  His tireless efforts have now produced a hugely significant decision that will benefit a huge number of ‘absent parents’ who have contact with their children…as long as they get off their backsides and appeal!

The DWP is bound to appeal this decision as they are appealing every decision it seems, so if you are a separated parent then get your appeal in.

The tenant thanked me for my help today yet I did nothing and this is all his own work and my respect for his efforts is huge.  One last point.  This tenant did all of this work and won on an Article 8 ground when many experts thought this unlikely.  This case is bound to be appealed to the Upper Tribunal and that tenant will require pro bono help from a barrister when this case is appealed as it undoubtedly will and I would think that will come to pass as I am aware that such representation has been achieved for the room size and usage lead case of CH/153/2014 which is great news for all bedroom tax winners too.

This was a decision of Judge Moss whose decision in Sunderland case SC236/13/02942 is rightly admired as being wonderfully argued and cogently articulated on the primacy of fact above all else and a decision that all admire and many say is appeal proof.  Yet this case given how important this is will be given permission to appeal as it is of huge public interest and not just because SSWP Iain Duncan Smith will once again spit out his dummy when he reads this…Bloody judges eh!!

I will get the anonymised 13 pages up as quick as I can.

UPDATE Saturday 15 August – The statement of reasons is here 

 

 

Bedroom Tax – huge INTER and INTRA regional impacts

When anyone asserts that the bedroom tax does this or does that they are talking through their backsides!!

  • No MP or ANY political party
  • No social landlord wherever they are based
  • No Chief Executive of any social landlord
  • No housing lobby such as CIH or NHF
  • No journalist whether in the Guardian, Telegraph or Inside Housing
  • No tenant
  • No housing consultant / campaigner / activist / blogger (ahem!!)
  • Not even the most reputable research organisation or think tank such as JRF et al…

…can say definitively that the bedroom tax impacts are X Y or Z and this is due to the massive and hugely different impacts from London to the North West (INTER regionally) and the massively different impacts within regions (INTRA regionally) such as this simple table of FACT reveals.

The table is a simple one I devised in ten minutes from yesterdays official release of the Housing Benefit data which says how many households are affected by the bedroom in each area.These are the official figures and the official FACTS

One quick point of the many this simple FACTUAL data reveals is that in the North West we see:

  • 1 in 11 social housing tenants on HB is hit by the bedroom tax in Blackpool YET
  • 1 in 2 social housing tenants on HB  in Copeland hit by the bedroom tax

Staggering differences occur all over the country in every region that has to mean the chances of downsizing or any other bedroom tax impact is RADICALLY different not just between regions or inter regionally but within each region or intra regionally.

  • In the North East we see twice as many affected in County Durham as in Darlington
  • In Wales its 1 in 7 in Conwy yet 1 in 3 social tenants on HB in Blaenau Gwent
  • In Scotland 1 in 7 in Perth yet 1 in 3 in West Lothian
  • In Yorkshiire and the Humber its 1 in 9 in Harrogate yet almost 1 in 3 in Doncaster
  • In the East Midlands its 1 in 11 in Blaby yet almost 1 in 3 in Corby
  • In the South West there are twice the number hit by the bedroom tax in North Somerset than in Bournemouth
  • In London its just 1 in 20 in Westminster yet almost 1 in 7 social tenants on HB in Lambeth
  • In the South East its just 1 in every 16 social tenants On HB in Mole Valley yet 1 in 5 in Basingstoke

 

hbfigsbtaffected

The above data reveals so much more and so many more areas of investigation such as why did LB Westminster with the lowest percentage of bedroom tax affected households get the highest amount of DHP per person?  And so many more.

However that’s for another time and I’ve kept this very simple just to demonstrate that nobody can be definitive as to the bedroom impacts as they vary significantly INTRA REGIONALLY and impact very differently from one council to its next door neighbouring council

Time to rethink the bedroom tax once again reader!!

*********************************************************

UPDATE 14:30PM 14th August

In response to a number of responses on Twitter I have added another figure below which is the percentage of social tenants on HB hit by the bedroom tax in Inner London.  Inner London has the lowest variance of any region ranging from Westminster at 5.17% to Lambeth at 13.32% yet even in this region with the LOWEST variance the marked intra regionally differences are significant.

The table below shows Haringey at 9.81% and Southwark at 12.10% and the significance of that is may not seem great yet in the amount of money that is taken out of each of the inner London boroughs in bedroom tax it is very significant indeed.  In Haringey it is £2.13m yet in Southwark with almost an identical number of overall HB claimants at circa 37,000 the figure is £3.78 million per year.

Thus a seemingly small percentage difference of 2.29% between Southwark at 12.1% and Haringey at 9.81% translates into a £1.65 million per year difference.

So imagine what this means for areas with a large percentage difference intra regionally and take two metropolitan councils in West Yorkshire in Wakefield and Kirklees.

  • Wakefield has 30,064 HB claimants of which 28.32% hit with the bedroom tax and £3.98m is taken out of the local economy due to the overall bedroom tax cut
  • Kirklees has 33,117 HB claimants so more than Wakefield yet it only has 12.32% hit by the bedroom tax taking £1.57m out of the local economy.

So the actual impact in money terms is more than double in Wakefield as it is in Kirklees and reveals a hugely significant difference.

ilbtmay2014

 

 

4 POOR YEARS, 4 POOR YEARS – Housing Benefit under the coalition – a time to stir!

Today sees the release of the official Housing Benefit figures from the DWP and these record the figures up to May 2014 and the first four years under the coalition. Snapshot is:

  1. Overall HB bill is now £24.11 billion up from £20.87 billion in May 2010
  2. June 2010 coalition says it will reduce HB bill by £2 billion yet it has increased by £3.24 billion meaning the total HB bill is £5.24 billion more per year than the coalition promised the welfare reforms to HB of LHA caps, benefit cap and the bedroom tax would achieve
  3. May 2010 cost of Housing Benefit to those in work was £2.90 billion and four years later that cost is now £5.13 billion per year.

Time for a closer look at just how bad these figures are for the coalition and, for once dear reader, we can read some FACT about Housing Benefit from the DWP’s own hand. Let’s start with the 3 highlighted points above 1. The overall bill

  • The figures show at Table 4 at cell C80 that there are 4,985,741 HB claimants.
  • The figures at table 5 at cell C81 that the average each receive is £92.69 per week
  • Simple multiplication reveals the total HB cost is at May 2014 £24, 113, 196,250 or £24.11 billion

2.  Actual -v- Promised The May 2010 figure was £20.87 billion devised as above by multiplying 4,751,526 claimants at £84.20 per week average. In the July 2010 issue of HB Digest published by DWP we see: -

The Chancellor announced a package of Housing Benefit (HB) reforms in his Budget statement on 22 June. It is the most significant and comprehensive reform programme for HB since the scheme was introduced in the 1980s. The background is the budget deficit and the reductions in public expenditure that the Government is making to tackle it. 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. There are also important policy considerations around fairness and work incentives that lie behind the reforms”

The package of HB reforms comprised various LHA reforms, the benefit cap and the bedroom tax with the aim of reducing overall cost of the Housing Benefit bill by £2bn per year meaning the governments own target was nearly £2 billion savings on the then £20.87 billion HB bill, or a target of £18.9 billion by 2014/15 – or today. The overall HB bill is £24.11bn or a cost of greater than £5 billion more per year than the target – or a cost of £5bn more than IDS said his great ‘reforms’ would achieve. 3.  Housing Benefit to those IN WORK The same quote above says “There are also important policy considerations around fairness and work incentives that lie behind the reforms” – Though I don’t suspect the amount of Housing Benefit paid to those in work increasing from £2.9 billion in May 2010 to £5.13 billion in May 2014 was what IDS had in mind!

  • Table 6 of the official HB release today at Cell E80 has 1,058,569 HB claimants in work
  • Table 7 of the same at Cell E82 say they each received £92.96 per week in HB
  • Again multiply the two to get the £5.13 billion per year figure

In May 2010 there were 650,551 in work claiming HB so since the election and under IDS’s watch the number of those in work claiming HB has risen by 408,018 working families. More correctly, risen by 408,018 HARD working families as surely that overused political term the ‘hardworking’ family applies much more to those working full time and receiving a wage so low they qualify for full Housing Benefit. Full housing benefit?  YES – the working family receives more on average at £92.96 per week than the overall average HB in payment per week of £92.69 for all HB claimants. The cost of HB paid to working families at May 2010 was £2.9 billion (£85.50 to 650,551 claimants) and so this has increased by £2.23 billion per year since the election and increase of 77%. The taxpayer is subsidising low wage paying employers through Housing Benefit by £5.13 billion per year.  That is what these figures say.  That subsidy has increased by £2.23 billion per year under the coalition watch. To put this subsidy to employers into context the only time we usually red of housing benefit and subsidy is that social housing is subsidised housing, it is only cheaper than market housing because it is subsidised and other barbs thrown at the social housing model and the social tenant. Yet social housing has received £4.5bn of subsidy from this coalition over four years or £1.13 billion per year.  Contrast that with the £5.13 billion subsidy the low wage paying employer gets from Housing Benefit. Employers get £4 billion per year more in subsidy than social housing! What frankly annoys the hell out of me is that the spin and sophistry that goes on about welfare reforms (sic) such as reducing HB and the bedroom tax, benefit cap and LHA reform which were all introduced to reduce the HB bill.  The FACTS show this has not worked. A year ago I published a blog to say that working families on HB had broken through the 1 million mark which they had as the official figures show (see Table 6 E69) that in July 2013 there were 1,006,191 working claimants getting HB.  Yet only a week or so ago and some TWELVE MONTHS AFTER THE FACT we see the national media and the House of Commons Library and the Labour Party all saying that SHORTLY the number of working families would pass the one million mark! This errant report from the House of Commons library and picked up by Independent and others and Rachel Reeves for Labour said: -

According to the House of Commons statistics, 478,000 people with jobs claimed housing benefit in 2009/10, rising to an expected 962,000 this year. On current trends, the number of claimants will increase by a further 276,000 to 1,238,000 in 2018-19. The cost to the taxpayer has climbed from £2.2bn in 2009/10 to £4.6bn this year and to a projected £6bn in 2018-19.

All of the above is wrong as the official figures show.  The number of working HB claimants will not RISE to 962,000 this year that number in May 2010 was 1.058,569 already.  It went passed the ‘expected 962,000′ figure in December 2012 as a matter of FACT (964,145 to be exact) The cost to the taxpayer has climbed to £4.6bn?  No as a matter of FACT it is already £5.13 billion as at May 2014 as I explain above with very specific references to qualified FACT and without any scope for ambiguity. In this fast paced world where we can see instantaneous video on our smartphones in the middle of a cornfield of something happening live 13,000 miles away how can we not read a f*cking spreadsheet of factual data?? Given that welfare reforms are high up the political agenda and will play a part in the next general election, the Tory spin machine on HB and welfare reform has us believe that both are working and the political cry of Four more years, Four more years is their message.  Yet the FACTS of the matter mean the reality is and the battlecry should be FOUR POOR YEARS, FOUR POOR YEARS. As Thomas Paine said in Common Sense, the battlecry for American independence “a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right.”  Believe IDS’s rhetoric and deceit and you would think his welfare reforms are working.  Scratch under that superficial veneer reader and the FACTS tell a very different story indeed.  Time to stir!

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