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Direct Payments – the tenant moves from captive customer to real customer

One of the welfare reform policies is direct payments or DP and this is the one that will change the face of social housing more than any other.  Forget the bedroom tax or any other welfare reform policy, DP is the one policy that has council and housing association landlords worried sick.

Yet, as with all welfare reform policies DP is ill-considered by government and yet again social landlords are making a pig’s ear of a response by not thinking it through fully and being ill-prepared for this particular change.

3.4 million or so social housing tenants have their rent paid through Housing Benefit. This goes directly to the social landlord with the HB money never passing through the tenants hands.  Landlords like this arrangement and have become accustomed to it.  Tenants like this too as they have never had to worry about paying rent if on benefit.

To put that into context the coalition admits 1.4 million of social housing HB claimants are not affected by any welfare reform policy by being pensioners and so this DP change will affect the other 2 million social housing tenants of working-age who claim HB.  Eventually that is 2 million rent accounts each week that will be affected and 2 million rent accounts with rent payments no longer guaranteed.   Social housing has just over 4 million tenant households so DP sees a change from roughly two in every three rents being guaranteed by Housing Benefit to just 1.4 million being guaranteed out of 4 million or about one in three.

This is a huge change and quite rightly has social landlords and especially their finance directors worried as hell.

The coalition says in its spin on DP that it wants to make tenants more responsible by paying them directly so that they can pay the landlord. This is an issue of control between tenant and social landlord with the current system seeing landlords in control of the payment of rent: Yet that changes with DP which puts the responsibility and the control of rent payment with the social tenant – and that is a monumental change as the social tenant finally becomes the customer is what DP means.

At present the social tenant is at best a captive customer who does not change his housing provider because he can’t easily do so.  The social tenant is the same captive customer forced to pay £4 for a bottle of water on the Ryanair flight or £6 for two sausage and two rounds of toast at a motorway service station.

The social tenant moves once every 14 years and to date has to put up with the level of service his landlord provides.  Thankfully social housing is regulated and social landlords average service level is good compared with the private unregulated landlord.

However social landlords service levels vary significantly and tenants currently have little klout in forcing their landlord to undertake repairs or the like.  Yet that changes dramatically with DP as the tenant becomes in control of the payment of rent.  If and when the tenant has any form of beef with the landlord he can potentially, and will in practice, withhold rent.  It makes no difference that social tenants withholding rent while awaiting repair has a highly dubious legal basis as tenants will withhold rent for this reason in far greater numbers.

Even if no particular beef over repairs with his landlord the tenant has the power with DP to reduce the priority of paying rent.  I note a report issued today which says that only 32% of tenants are satisfied with their social landlord. All social landlords are well aware that at peak expenditure times DP will mean that rent paid at Christmas will inevitably fall as even the most  responsible tenants have the choice to skip a payment or two so that they and their children have a happier Christmas. There will be other ad hoc peak expenditure times too for the social tenant; a family celebration such as a wedding or other typical occasion.

Yet what these all do is see the social tenant in control of the payment of rent and become the real customer not the captive one.

For decades social landlords have positioned themselves as more than just a landlord by delivering anti social behaviour services and other ‘community’ functions that sees tenant’s look to social landlords to provide.  Landlords have made a rod for their own backs with this as tenants will expect and do expect more and more from their social landlord yet as landlords will have less guaranteed income they will have to reduce service levels making them less responsive to the now full not captive customer and more tenants will withhold rent or at least pay less or less frequently or more sporadically than before when they never had that option.

IF social landlords have less income to deliver these ‘housing plus’ services which will be the case with DP then tenants will ‘judge’ their landlords just as they judge other providers.  If a tenant has a bad experience with Tesco they can take their custom to Aldi and they do this and so if a landlord does not deliver as tenants ‘expect’ or landlord staff don’t come up to a standard the social tenant ‘expects’ then tenants will further de-prioritise the payment of rent.

Tenant expectations and tenant perceptions which currently are not a real factor in the provision of social housing become very real factors with DP as the tenant takes control of the payment of rent.

Over the last 18 months or so I have met and spoken with hundreds of tenants (and landlords) across Merseyside and beyond.  Some landlords have far more money than others in terms of repair and in terms of standards of properties because of this.  The age old landlord tenant problem of your property is not damp its condensation sees significantly different outcomes for tenants and all down to how much money each landlord has.  Often tenants in the same street can have different social landlords with Landlord A who has money deals directly with the ‘damp’ issue yet Landlord B who has much less repair money saying it is not damp its condensation and down to the tenant not opening windows and drying clothing on the radiators etc.

Yet when DP comes in the tenant of Landlord B above will be just as aggrieved as he is now but ABLE to do more about it by attempting to withhold rent.  That tenant with DP has other options and no doubt the no win no fee Philadelphia lawyers will be targeting such tenants of Landlord B soon enough to seek redress and to get some ‘compo!’

That is just another example of how DP will change the landlord tenant relationship and there are scores of other similar examples that will emerge and BECAUSE the tenant becomes in control of the payment of rent and has influence and power over the payment of rent.

Landlords know that DP means tenants have influence and take control of the payment of rent yet they tend not to see the above issues.  Landlords see the bottom line issue and only the bottom line issue of much less rent being guaranteed and how this may affect their borrowing levels and interest rates paid on borrowing which is a huge and legitimate concern and one I am not downplaying at all.

However landlords have not paid enough attention to the landlord tenant relationship and how the dynamics of that will inevitably change; or how the power balance shifts dramatically from the landlord to the tenant in terms of the DP tenant becoming a real not a captive customer.

The DP tenant will hold the aces yet landlords who are rightly acutely worried about the impacts of DP come up with hare brained schemes such as the Halton Housing Trust response to DP of only communicate with us via digital means in return for a cheap tablet device and internet access.  While we must assume the bare costs of such a scheme have been considered for financial viability of such a project, what this does to the landlord tenant relationship dynamic clearly have not.

DP means that aggrieved tenant have more influence and power to get redress and as I outline above DP also means that more social tenants will be aggrieved and come forward with their grievances – whether deserved or not – because DP gives them much more potential influence over issues of grievance.  Very simply the social tenant will see more prospect of success for any grievance issue they have because they hold the power lever which DP gives.

More grievances and with a higher chance of redress is what DP holds for the tenant and more cost for the landlords is what DP really means. Whether the tenant tells the landlord by digital means or by snail post doesn’t change that and as a matter of obvious fact digital communication hugely increases that.

I like the radical nature of the HHT plan for so many reasons not least that it gives tenants digital access and there is much to applaud in it.  Yet as we saw in the KHT example social media is a very dangerous animal indeed.  KHT issued a standard letter to tenants in essence saying pay your (bedroom tax) rent else we will tell social services who will come and take your kids and was an unfortunately drafted as well as offensive letter.  That letter was seen 140,000 times in the first weekend thanks to social media and universally condemned.

The reputation of the landlord KHT took a hammering.  It also hardened the grassroots activist’s response to the bedroom tax in Knowsley.  Tenants have long memories and over time 2 plus 2 does become 5 and therein lies a huge problem and an ineptly neglected issue for social landlords panicking over DP.

Social landlords before all of the welfare reform policies paid scant attention to reputational risk unless they also delivered NIMBY supported housing services for ex-offenders, single homeless hostels and the like where reputational risk is THE biggest risk.  General needs or ‘bog standard’ social housing never held any real reputational risks to mainstream social landlords.

Yet the emergence of social media and the welfare reforms hugely increased reputational risk and why I have long maintained that social landlords should be supporting tenants to appeal the bedroom tax.  Aside from rent levels staying the same and more HB coming in and a significant back payment when a bedroom tax appeal succeeds, it also makes the social landlord a good one in tenant perceptions MY landlord is supporting me and the landlord achieves huge tenant goodwill.  By contrast the landlord not supporting the tenant to appeal receives the opposite.

Now with DP starting to roll out across the country and tenants taking control of the payment of rent the real significance of that becomes very apparent.

Social media and the digital way so beloved and advocated by Nick Atkin at HHT holds huge dangers in and of itself.  Combine that with the tenant becoming the real customer and having full control of the payment of rent and you disregard what all of this means to the landlord tenant relationship.  The aggrieved tenant, whether they are rightly or wrongly aggrieved, is a real concern for all social landlords and something they have to consider in much greater detail than they have to date.  Social landlords reputational risk for mainstream ‘bog-standard’ general needs lets which is 95%+ of their business, their core business, is just as prone to reputational risk as the tiny percentage their NIMBY supported housing lets have had for decades.

When the IT cocks up, as it will, as IT always does, and when the HHT tenant has stopped looking at cats doing stupid things on YouTube and realises they can’t get redress for any issue face to face, these HHT tenants will become aggrieved.  When they are bombarded with emails because the administration of Universal Credit and its DP element is such a farce as neighbouring Warrington states here, the tenant will be aggrieved by this IT cock up.  Those HHT tenants will find more reason to be aggrieved and matters of repair will take on a new and higher significance and importance and HHT tenants will bombard HHT with more and more repair requests and more and more why aren’t you doing anything about drug dealing and ASB on my estate etc.

IT is always sold as a panacea and those who advocate it are radical and innovative and those who diss any part of the idea are by definition a Luddite.  That is crassly naive and in business terms incredibly inept even as a superficial selling point which is what the HHT plan is.

The HHT plan is ‘sold’ on this naive basis by HHT and given undue credence by the National Housing Federation (NHF) who also publicise this ill-considered idea to sell seminar places.  Regrettably this is the all too typical ‘omniscient landlord’ response to a welfare reform policy of ‘we are landlords so we know best.’  The social landlord blinded by the panacea and deluded belief that IT will save the day fails to address the landlord tenant relationship dynamic at huge peril.

DP makes the social tenant the customer and social landlords treat the tenant the same as Gerald Ratner treated his customers, with contempt and chronically inept consideration.  The HHT plan lauded as the radical innovative way forward is a classic example of how landlords may change the name of housing directors to customer service directors yet fail to understand and appreciate what customer service means.

Once the social tenant becomes a real customer, which is precisely what DP entails, landlords are going to have to radically change their modus operandi and look at what a customer is and what a customer expects and that customer is going to be a far more powerful and real customer than any social housing tenant has ever been before.

Social landlords dismissed and still dismiss the benefit cap as a ‘real’ issue for them despite 46% of all those affected being social tenants. Oh this doesn’t affect us they say it is only a problem in London and only then with high private rent levels when it is an issue for all larger families irrespective of where they live.  The same indifferent approach is seen in the bedroom tax appeal with social landlords showing antipathy there despite it being a financial no brainer for them to support tenants appealing.  The same landlords are accused of becoming overly commercialised too and moving away from their ethos and core values and they are with a much greater uptake of AR and other ‘non-traditional’ income sources to compensate for the income reduction policies of bedroom tax, benefit cap and that will have to increase too with DP.

Despite #4councilhousing and the Shout campaigns which have sprung up to fight for social housing social landlords still don’t sell what they offer and still hold on to some ethereal notion of being ‘social’ landlords while their finance directors within social housing increasingly take control and direction away from chief executives and boards.

With DP they will make the same mistakes again of bombarding tenants with red inked letters and make these now customers even more aggrieved and expect everything to be as before the welfare reform policies were implemented, or in simple terms not know the industry in which they work and especially not know the customer that the tenant becomes with DP.  If ever you wanted a classic case of we have always done it this way and a steadfast refusal to change then look at social housing.

Again the HHT plan comes to mind.  It can be portrayed as radical and innovative all you like by its developers HHT and by NHF and others who want it to work and naively believe it will.  Yet this plan is a huge risk too far and a risk which will alienate and take tenants for granted even more and once more just another example of social landlords not knowing who their customers are or what they require.  With DP and the increased take up in digital and social media landlords need to fundamentally think what impacts this will have, yet they do and have not – Plus ca change!

Overlong? Yes

Bit of a rant? Yes

Repeats itself? Yes

Too long and too involved for the zealots who state IT is a universal panacea and only issue superficial subterfuge in bit size chunks because the housing reader cant be bothered to pay attention for more than the length of a gnat and are not prepared to stop and think for once? Undoubtedly!

 

 

IDS’s latest bedroom tax strategy is all men are rapists!!

All men are capable of rape therefore all men are rapists was one of the strident assertions of the New York feminist movement in the early 1970’s.

Contrast that with what Iain Duncan Smith says about the bedroom tax and I quote directly from a DWP argument put into the Upper Tribunal which says:

a. the Government intended that all rooms that are capable of being used as a bedroom should be classified as such (see for instance DWP circular U6/2013);

The absolute perversity of such a statement is lost on the DWP legal department.  It is legally, economically. practically and politically perverse to say a room capable of being a bedroom is a bedroom.

  • I can fit a mattress on my bath therefore its a bedroom.
  • I can fit a single bed in my bathroom therefore it is a bedroom.
  • I can fit a bed into my kitchen therefore it is a bedroom
  • I can fit a bed in my living room therefore it is a bedroom

All of the above are true and therefore according to Iain Duncan Smith I have 3 bedrooms more than anyone thinks. So will 4 million or so social tenants across the country.

Just think reader social landlords have all along been charging tenants a rent level that is far too low and all local councils have been charging too little in council tax as they wrongly believed Acacia Avenue has 40 3 bed properties when it has 40 6 bed properties.

Even estate agents have been underselling the compact and bijou properties as being smaller than they are.

Of course this cannot go on and social landlords must reclassify all properties now as all living rooms are capable of being a bedroom and therefore are bedrooms.

The above DWP submission to the Upper Tribunal continues and says why IDS believes that all rooms capable of being bedrooms are bedrooms:

b. the effect of the First-tier Tribunal’s decision is that social security funds should be used to pay for claimants to have rooms to be used as [XYZ]. This clearly does not accord with the policy intention of the removal of the spare room subsidy, which is to reduce housing benefit expenditure and encourage more effective use of social housing stock;

So the policy intention of saying that far more rooms are bedrooms is to REDUCE housing benefit expenditure?  Yet if all rooms capable of being bedroom are bedrooms in the tortured mind of IDS then rents and housing benefit expenditure must INCREASE!

If all 3 bed properties are actually 6 bed properties given all rooms capable of being bedrooms are bedrooms then a quick calculation reveals the HB bill for social housing will increase by circa £2.7 billion overnight given an increase in HB of about £14.97 per SRS property receiving HB.

The bizarre legal and practical nonsense goes on:

c. given that there are 241,000 households living in overcrowded accommodation it is clear that the Government did not intend for others to have [X Y Z], paid for by the social security budget;

Of course if every room capable of being a bedroom is a bedroom then there is no such thing as overcrowding is there?  Tenant households can be shoe-horned into properties and this is the Government’s intention and we can take part X of the 1985 Housing Act out altogether as it becomes meaningless too.  There is no such thing as society rewritten as there is no such thing as overcrowding says the self-proclaimed rapist.

Oh hang on why does Government pay for older persons through social security to live in under occupied property.  Does that mean the pensioner is next to be hit by the bedroom tax?  Yes it must be!

What about privately rented housing?  If IDS and his DWP won’t to do away with overcrowding and all rooms capable of being a bedroom are bedrooms, then there is no need for the independent rent officer service so a huge saving to Government, yet the Rachmann’s of the PRS will cram 4 people into every 1 bed property and claim the 4 bed rate of LHA.  Another quick calculation reveals the Housing Benefit bill increases by a further £4.12 billion per year overnight given 1.65m PRS properties would see each LHA claim rise by circa £47.90 per week.

So far we see that the DWP assertion that all rooms capable of being a bedroom are bedrooms resulting in the HB bill increasing by £6.9 billion per year overnight.

All men are capable of being incompetent arseholes of course as IDS clearly reveals here…not that we needed any further proof!

Strange that IDS and DWP are so resolute that the 1985 Housing Act overcrowding provisions are not to be considered or be read across into HB regulations yet argue that they do in seeking to appeal a bedroom tax decision that has gone against their hare-brained policy don’t you think?

The overcrowding position is also an interesting one as overcrowding is more prevalent in the PRS than in the social rented sector. While both have 6% overcrowding the PRS is the bigger sector and 8% bigger in fact according to the EHS from where this 241,000 overcrowding in social housing originates meaning the PRS has 261,000 overcrowded households and of course if every room capable of being a bedroom is a bedroom as IDS believes then that overcrowding can only INCREASE  Also interesting to note that overcrowding was on a significant downward trend in social housing before the bedroom tax policy was introduced as that is the fact and the same fact from which this 241,000 figure originates:

overc2012

IDS now wants to reverse that trend by saying that

“…all rooms capable of being used as a bedroom should be classified as such”

I am minded of the late Les Dawson who quipped the Mother-in-Law is coming to stay but don’t worry I’ve cleared a space so she can sleep hanging upside down in the wardrobe! So the vampire mother-in-law reveals that a wardrobe is a bedroom in IDS’s view as this is clearly a room capable of being a bedroom.  You may think I am being flippant reader yet “…all rooms capable of being used as a bedroom should be classified as such (see for instance DWP circular U6/2013)” accords with that.

Leaving aside for a second that DWP circular U6/2013 was issued in September 2013 and six months after the bedroom tax decisions were made and thereby could NOT have played any part in the original bedroom tax decisions (surely a slip of the DWP legal mind which expects HB officers to have a crystal ball into IDS’s thinking) the U6 /2013 is not universally known as the Captain Mainwaring guidance without good reason.

Here is page 2 of the DWP circular U6 of 2013:

u62013

Oh dear IDS really has got his knickers in a twist here hasn’t he (proving he would even be an incompetent rapist anyone?)

At 3 he says the space standards of the 1985 Housing Act don’t apply as that would mean a living room is a bedroom yet he no says a living room is a bedroom as it is capable of being a bedroom!

At 4 he says that the landlords determination of the number of bedrooms is determinative which (a) fails to tally with paragraph 20 of his own earlier A4/2012 guidance which says the landlord is under no obligation whatsoever to give any information to the council to decide whether the bedroom tax applies.  How information that SSWP IDS recognises may not be given becomes determinative is just another perversity of this chop-change flip-flopper when the paucity of thought he put into the policy is exposed

(b) IDS fails to realise that a landlord is not a party to the bedroom tax decision and of course unaware that the SI governing the Tribunal who find that pesky term FACT as their raison d’etre states who is and is not a “party” to the decision in its definitions and of course the landlord is not a party just a mere third-party despite IDS wanting to have the landlords view as sacrosanct here in September 2013 but not have to provide any view at all in the June 2012 A4/2012 circular

(c) If the landlords word now is sacrosanct as to the number of bedrooms then all every landlord has to do is say each bedsit holds 4 bedrooms and the HB bill rockets by the trifling amount of £6.9 billion per year – which while technically ridding any need of the overcrowding legislation in the 1985 Act which IDS appears to think he can overturn by a DWP circular – would also severely bugger up the economy

At [5] he reiterates that it is up to the landlord but the landlord should not measure rooms. Anyone tells me how a landlord can deem if a room is capable of fitting in a bed without measuring such rooms?

Ah perhaps IDS is a Les Dawson fan reader “…whether or not a room is large enough to accommodate at least a single bed

I once had fitted floor to ceiling sliding door wardrobes in my bedroom with a depth of about 3 ft.  They could accommodate a single bed standing on its end ergo they were bedrooms though I never allowed my former mother-in-law to hang upside down in repose there.

Also note this says a single bed too which reveals IDS does not even know his own HB regulations which say nothing at all about a single or a double bed.  Regulation B(13) says 1 bedroom is allocated for a couple.  So IDS thinks couples sleep in single beds then!  I see so every room your landlords classifies as a double bedroom is meant for two couple to occupy!  Ah a sneaky way of increasing the bedroom tax even further eh IDS!

What this bizarre DWP legal argument states is not that IDS is a rapist, just that he is an incompetent arsehole who zealously seeks to hang on to a zealous ideological policy that wasn’t thought through.  This DWP response is seeking permission to appeal cases where the Tribunals have ruled that a room is what it is used for such as a study or any other reasonable alternate use of a room.

What it reveals is that the DWP counter argument to what a room is used for determines what that room is deemed to be is incredibly legally flawed and truly perverse.  All of the 481.603 bedroom tax affected households who can argue that they have a reasonable alternate use of a room have absolutely nothing to fear from IDS’s perverse counter argument that if a room is capable of being a bedroom then it is a bedroom.

Two years ago this month and 8 months before it came in, I advocated tenants should appeal the bedroom tax.  I spoon fed how you do this here and it will take you 5 minutes to appeal and you have nothing to lose by doing so. I have seen no argument why appealing was wrong then or wrong now and this perverse and risible argument from the Incompetent Despotic Shyster just confirms I was right so get appealing reader!

 

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 

 

 

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