Will SAR apply to social tenants – Yes it seems!

Many if not all believe the Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR) only applies to private tenants.  Yet I maintain it will apply to social tenants too from April 2013.  Heres why:

If you read the impact assessment for the under-occupation changes produced by DWP then you will see:

“From 1 April 2013 it is intended to introduce size criteria for new and existing working-age Housing Benefit claimants living in the social rented sector. The size criteria will replicate the size criteria that apply to Housing Benefit claimants in the private rented sector and whose claims are assessed using the local housing allowance rules”

As such SAR is part of the underoccupation changes which will see 25 — 34 year olds be treated in terms of HB eligibility the same as those in the private rented sector.  This means that a single person in a 1 bed council flat will be treated the same as a single person in a 1 bed private rented flat and subjected to the SAR but from April 2013 whereas the SAR change for private tenants was introduced in January 2012.

The above quote from DWP is categorical and unambiguous – that social tenants will be treated to the same size criteria as private tenants on LHA from April 2013.  This must include SAR.

Is this a case of SAR being introduced by the backdoor and the sector (and Shapps) missed this just as with the LHA freeze?

Can anyone get clarification from DWP on this?  Anyone have any thoughts on the above please leave a comment below.

Joe

UPDATE Thursday 15th March

I passed this on to journalists early yesterday as they are more likely to get a response from DWP and or CLG.  As yet I have no knowledge of any response from either Ministry though given that if my reading of this is true and the SAR will apply to all tenants under 35 from April 2013 I’m sure as soon as anyone gets a response it will appear somewhere.

I have received hundreds of communications over my reading of the above DWP guidance and not one has said the logic in my reading is flawed!  Given the seriousness of the implications of applying the SAR to social tenants, which are so huge nobody needs to mention, this is startling and worrying!  The excellent and always informative Nearly Legal blog has also put a post up and maybe an answer will appear there first.  I’ve commented there that unlike the legal profession who regularly get together to write open letters to the national media to get a ministerial response, there appears to be no similar mechanism from the housing sector. Food for thought!

It’s purely coincidence that this is the Ides of March, though everyone involved in any way with housing should beware the implications of the above.  Comments I’ve made or received on this say it means there will be no viable housing options at all for the under 35s if the SAR applies.  Private landlords wont touch them neither will social landlords and they are unlikely to be able to buy.  Will HMOs spring up out of the ether is another typical comment will many saying we should watch repeats of Rising Damp to get a flavour of the boarding houses and bedsits from the 60s and 70s!  The legal issues are significant as well as the impact on other HB matters such as NDDs and so many other implications; not least it would mean accommodation-based supported housing such as hostels and refuges and foyers that rely upon move-on would have their business model blown out of the water and probably close at an alarming rate just as homelessness and rough sleeping would go through the roof (no pun intended.)

Yet if its ok for private tenants to have SAR applied which is actually in place now having come into operation in January, why is it not acceptable for this to be applied to social tenants?

That in many ways is the killer question.

Will the coalition say my view above simply represents a simple error or confusion as we all hope it is and the SAR wont apply in April 2013?  If they do come back with such an answer wouldn’t that just flag up the inequity of it applying to just private tenants?  Would that then mean government would have to stop SAR altogether?  This is not just an issue of a simple misunderstanding at all is it?  It’s a hugely serious and political hot potato.

However, everyone involved in housing in any shape or form needs an answer and we need an answer quickly – over to you Ministers!

FURTHER UPDATE

Abi Davies of the CIH has tweeted in the last 15 minutes that “Social tnt with more rooms than need loses % of eligible benefit; LHA has fixed rates for required number of rooms. Diff mechanism = no SAR”

Of course ridiculously hard to explain in 140 chararcters.  Yet Abi appears to be saying its a different mechanism but I can’t agree with that and I dont think I’m being a pedant over this.  Look again at the DWP guidance and especially the last sentence and the word ‘replicate.’  It says:

The size criteria will replicate the size criteria that apply to Housing Benefit claimants in the private rented sector and whose claims are assessed using the local housing allowance rules

Replicate has an ordinary simple meaning and it cannot mean a different mechanism in my view.  It could mean that the DWP guidance was badly drafted, in fact whether I’m right or wrong in my scepticism on whether SAR applies, the DWP guidance IS badly drafted. And much as I would like Abi’s view to be 100% correct we still need a categorical answer in writing from DWP and CLG on this issue.

Abi, the CIH and the rest of the housing sector, myself included, all missed the LHA freeze announcement in October and December last year until I revealed it in early February 2012.  Incredibly ineptly so did Grant Shapps the Housing Minister as he said something entirely different in CLG guidance 16 days after the second DWP announcement on this!

I hope I am wrong in my original view that SAR will apply.  I would dearly love just to accept Abi’s view on it, but (a) given my earlier update on this being a political hot potato, (b) recent experience of the entire sector missing something as important as the LHA rent freeze (as well as Shapps 41% council rent rise plans too);and (c) the importance of the implications of SAR applying to all tenants, we need something in writing from DWP and/or CLG to absolute clarify the issue.

FINAL UPDATE  – The Ides of March!

With all due respect to Abi Davies and the CIH, you are working with DWP you say on this issue. But you dont work for the DWP and you dont represent the DWP on this or any issue and it is the DWP and probably CLG that have to answer the simple question of whether the SAR will apply to social tenants.

If Abi keeps up tweets such as I am ‘just looking for a story that doesnt exist’ or similar jibes then by all means bring it on and we can have a full blown slanging match. Such comments are akin to waving a red flag to a bull.  To answer whether I am just looking for a ‘story’ is nonsense.  I simply read what the DWP guidance, thee official DWP guidance DOES say.  I commented on that and as I said above I had hundreds of correspondence and response and not one disagreed that my simple logic which said it does apply was flawed.

I truly and genuinedly hope there is no substance in my interpretation, have said that repeatedly and will repeat that ad infinitum so anyone trying to position and label me as just someone seeking a story for whatever reason is barking as well as barking up the wrong tree.

To return to serious discussion and comment I still maintain my position of earlier today that this is a political hot potato.  How can it be seen to be equitable to apply the SAR to just private tenants?  It cant be.  When in the context that every other social tenant is being subjected to LHA conditions such as the underoccupation tax the lack of equity and political issue of such a position is clear.  Add in this government has set out its stall loud and clear on reducing HB spend and even set a target saving of ‘nearly £2bn by 2015’ back in June 2010.  Would such a government decide to treat a single person under 35 differently from the next one because he lives in social rather than private rented accommodation?  The same government that recognised the pre-existing inequity that private tenants suffered in comparison to social ones by introducing LHA type conditions to social tenants? The same government keen to portray all other underoccupiers as feckless freeloaders defrauding the state and having the ‘privilege’ of ‘heavily subsidised’ social housing?

Still a non-story you think? Get real!

IMPORTANT UPDATE FRIDAY 16 MARCH

Inside Housing have just released an article here which says DWP going to consult on this!!  But they “dont expect” it to apply!  DONT EXPECT!!

I’ve updated this with a further post today which strengthens my position that the SAR could apply to social housing tenants.

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