Bedroom Tax – The private landlord doesn’t do disability! An equality challenge?

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.

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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!

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UPDATE

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?

 

 

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7 thoughts on “Bedroom Tax – The private landlord doesn’t do disability! An equality challenge?

  1. Legal challenge being prepared by several solicitors’ firms (inc. Pannone in Manchester & Leigh Day in London) & barristers at Doughty St Chambers on behalf of disabled people. Your point re private rental sector is an excellent one. Spartacus have done some work on this and we are planning to do more. For now see wearespartacus.org.uk/bedroom-tax-undermines-disabled-peoples-human-rights/

    1. Thanks Jane. Blog caused a bit of a stir and all positive even in a few hours. Housing professionals and others seeking to find any data of % split of disability and tenure and % of DFGs by tenure etc to support the widely held view that the private landlord doesnt do disability. Aware of and up-to-date with some you mention and others that makes sense to co-ordinate as after all….we are all in this together!

  2. I sent a link to the article to Kate Markus at Doughty St and she said it was useful as she’s considering the equality aspects for the case. I know from my work as a local authority Access Officer that private landlords really don’t do adaptations at all – either to dwellings or common parts. I had occupational therapists come to me for advice but there’s nothing in anti-discrimination legislation which helps disabled tenants in this respect.

    Are you a housing professional, Joe? If you are, it might be helpful to put you in touch with Kate or at least the solicitors dealing with the cases.

  3. I’m curious… as laws are meant to be equitable and should “apply to all equally” would it not also be interesting to have this challenged from the opposite end of the argument so as to pull in everyone who is currently excluded from the BT.

    My argument would be this, as IDS/DC stated this was to bring people in SH in line with the private rented market who “don’t get paid for a spare room” when in reality if they can find accommodation that fits within the band allocated that has more than the required number of rooms then they do in fact, in some cases, get paid for [a] spare room[s]…

    I admit this is less likely to be the case in London, probably impossible, but in other parts of the country it is quite likely that a single person can get a 2 bed flat/bedsit/studio/house while being a single person or a couple with no dependents at home and so have a spare room.

    Equally a couple with one or two children may decide to use some of the child benefit (c20GBP) or child payment [sorry can’t remember its name as its been a while since I could claim it] (c40GBP) towards paying more than the HB level for an extra room so that the children could have their own room.

    Once this has been established then it could be argued that this BT should apply to the private rented sector equally and that if the property has a “spare room” a deduction of 14% should be applied to the full rental cost of the privately rented house (not the HB proportion) as the BT is 14% of the SH rent… the fact that the HB is equal to the SH rent is a coincidental fact; if you get my meaning…. This would mean that a lot of private rented homes would now have a rather large shortfall as HB would be reduced and its unlikely that low income/unemployed could make up that shortfall, collapsing a large amount of the PR market.

    If this is a successful argument, the next argument would be that there shouldn’t be any difference in the maximum amounts paid to SH and that paid to PR (Private rent)… to be equitable then the maximum amount payable should either be the greater or lesser value allowed via HB to SH or PR, the theory being that if the amount possibly paid to PR is greater than that paid to SH less the BT then the greater amount should be paid which cancels out the BT… the other theory is that if it is the lesser amount then the PR payable should be reduced to equal the SH-BT… which massively under funds the private rental market.

    With the second option directly above the PR system would collapse overnight, but “should” be the version the Tories would press for (I know they wouldn’t, I’m not daft, lol) as it would reduce government spending on HB, their stated aim… with the first option directly above it would totally negate the effects of the BT as people caught up in the BT would be paid the potentially higher amount.

    The third tactical nuclear argument, and distasteful one, is that to be fair and equitable then no “exceptions” can be allowed… that then includes all pensioners not already caught up with the UC system of a pension age person with a non pension age person under one roof and also people who need a “spare room” for a carer. The new system already doesn’t take into account people with disability needs (apart from the carer aspect), people with foster children, people with non residential children, people with care of grandchildren even when in receipt of CB, people with children “away” at college, people with children “away” in the armed forces… so why should there be any exceptions at all.

    The point of the third argument is that if applied then so many people are caught up that the whole thing falls apart when people see how unfair it is to the pensioners and people with care needs and they are loosing their homes and being forced into private rents that are non existent or are unfindable due to the first two arguments… or that as there are some exceptions then more exceptions should be made for the “oddities” such as a non residential parent has access on the condition that [s]he provides a bedroom, a disabled child needs their own room due to disability, a disabled parent or disabled couple needs an extra room for their disabilities, and so on… till there are more exceptions than not… then the argument of fair can be raised again as it is unfair that this BT only applies to a section of society and the cost of checking the exceptions is so high that its cost far exceeds its savings… which we all know it doesn’t already as every person moved into private rent costs more than a larger HA property and as our first two arguments have proved are not compatible with the tenent of equitability.

    Just a thought… I leave it upto someone with far greater knowledge of these things than my self to decide if this would work or its just a daft ill thought out excersise and completely wrong on a number of legal precidents.

    1. Some genuinely interesting points I agree.

      However, one simple assumption that many make because the coalition tell us their biased view is that there is a problem with under-occupying in social housing.

      This week figures have been released which say
      “Rates of under-occupation remained substantially higher in the owner occupied sector (49%) than in both the social rented sector (10%) and the private rented sector (16%) ”

      The government claim that social housing is inefficient as it pays for spare bedrooms, yet as the above figures reveal there is MORE under-occupying in the so-called ‘efficient’ private rented sector! In fact there is 60 PER CENT MORE UNDER-OCCUPATION IN PRIVATE RENTED HOUSING

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