Think on the many mainstream news programmes you have watched recently on the bedroom tax. BBC, ITV, C4 etc and all the radio programmes or think on Prime Minister Questions this week or the literally hundreds if not thousands of articles read on the bedroom tax ….and disability and those with a disability spring to mind.
These are mostly what I call ‘human interest’ stories or emotional challenges to the bedroom tax; yet they should become and collectively a legal challenge.
The stories and news reports focus on families where for example a lift has been installed which takes up so much room downstairs and renders the upstairs ‘bedroom’ unusable as it takes up so much room. These ‘bedrooms’ will be counted in the bedroom tax and are clearly unfair by any definition, legal or otherwise or any moral compass.
When was the last time a private landlord spent thousands on installing disability adaptations in his property? The answer to that is never as private landlords just don’t do disability and those with a disability either reside in owner occupied properties or the social housing sector.
Hence, has the government ignored or paid little regard or not paid due regard to their Equality Duties on bringing in the bedroom tax into social housing?
That’s not articulated that well but simply if the private landlord doesn’t do disability and the social landlord does, then imposing a bedroom tax which the government maintain brings the social housing sector in line with those renting privately fundamentally ignores this major difference between the private and social rented sectors. The coalition has fundamentally ignored and negated that huge difference between the rented sectors and as such that is a dereliction of its equality duties.
I ask the legal minds that read my blogs to consider this and especially those that have some expertise in this area of equality and public law duties. If you don’t want to comment below you can email me and I will discuss your views anonymously if that helps for the purpose of getting this potential challenge out there.
In non-legal terms we are informed that the government says the bedroom tax affects 660,000 social tenant households. It also says the bedroom tax will affect 420,000 households that include a known disability and that’s about 64% of all bedroom tax affected households. Yet the government has sought to mitigate the now £505m first year claimed HB saving and £545m second year claimed HB saving from the bedroom tax with £30m per years worth of discretionary housing payments or DHPs.
Firstly this means that the average bedroom tax reduction is £14.66 and up from the £14.00 per week figure.
Secondly, it means that the 420,000 households with a disability will have a collective bedroom tax cut of £321m per year.
Thirdly, we need to view the DHP budget of £30m per year in that context. It means more than 9 out of 10 households with a disability affected by the bedroom tax wont get any financial help with a DHP
Fourthly, the same DHP budget is being used for foster carers and other deserving cases and not just those with a disability.
Which brings me back to my main point and question – How can they government say they have done an equality impact assessment on those with a disability who reside in social housing?
They haven’t have they? I see a strong legal challenge here as quite simply the private landlord doesn’t do disability and the DWP simply didn’t factor this into any equality impact assessment.
Note: The DWP impact assessment says the claimed HB saving was £480m in year 1 and £500m in year 2. I have been informed by four separate and reliable sources that the DWP has revised this to the £505m and £545m figures above. Why the DWP has revised this up by 4.71% (£14.00 to £14.66 on average) is interesting for social landlords and social tenants. Is this the average rent increase the DWP expects in April from social landlords? That would explain the 4.71% increase in their figures!
The above simple posit that private landlords don’t do disability has had a quick and large response from contacts, all of whom see the merit in the idea which is positive and they agree the issue seems right. However, we need to find some reliable data which shows the disparity of the social and privately rented sectors toward disability, some accurate disability by tenure statistics that can be drilled down into working-age and non working-age too so the impact of the bedroom tax can be fully considered.
I have come across one such source which says “The breakdowns for the impact of the cumulative measures on disabled customers of Housing Benefit are displayed in Table 2. There is a lower proportion of Local Housing Allowance customers with a disability (19 per cent) compared to the Housing Benefit caseload overall (26 per cent).”
Note well this is government impact assessment speak that suggests a 19% to 26% ratio is nothing much. Yet put this into plain English and it means
(a) 26% of all HB claimants have a disability and there are 5,051,120 overall HB claimants which gives 1,313,291 Hb claimants with a disability; and
(b) 19% of PRS claimants (1,653,860) or we have 314,233 private sector claimants of HB with a disability.
Therefore there are 999,058 HB claimants with a disability in social housing and 314,233 in privately rented housing meaning 76% of HB claimants with a disability live in social housing and 24% live in private rented.
Hence, the issue of disability impact is more than 3 times greater in the social rented sector than in private housing.
The impact assessment for the bedroom tax is woeful in terms of disability impact and in fact says we have not looked at this but will monitor it after the bedroom tax comes in!!
Surely, I must be making that up? No! You mean to say the government is knowingly introducing the bedroom tax without a clue what is going to happen to those with disabilities? Yes that’s precisely what it says! Not a clue to an issue which is at least 3 times greater than in the privately rented sector? Yes that’s exactly what the bedroom tax impact assessment says!
You mean to tell me the government is going to run the bedroom tax for at least two years to see what it’s impact is after the fact on gender or ethnicity or on disability?
Yes! Surely the same government that says it has a clear statutory duty to assess the equality impact of such a policy wouldn’t and couldn’t do that? Yes!
Dont believe me? Well just read the extract from it below from page 21!
DWP intend to undertake independent monitoring and evaluation to assess the impact of the introduction of size criteria in the social rented sector as outlined during the passage of the Welfare Reform Act. DWP expect the research to be undertaken over a two year period from 2013/14, with preparatory work starting in 2012/13 with initial findings being available in early 2013
The research methodology and scope will be finalised in consultation with contractors once the initial commissioning work has been completed.
DWP currently envisage that the evaluation will include a range of social landlords and local authorities across England, Scotland and Wales. Different types of authorities including a range of urban, rural and county district local authorities will be included and these will be selected to cover a range of different housing market demands, to ensure DWP can explore the effects of the introduction of size criteria effectively, and gain sound insight into the experiences of tenants of various age groups, those with a disability, their gender and ethnicity.
You think this is unfair reader? Mr Cameron says the bedroom tax is fair!
How can anyone know whether the bedroom tax is or isn’t fair if nobody has considered what the hell its impacts will be?