Bedroom Tax – Social landlord declares war on the social tenant

One Vision Housing (OVH) is located in Bootle near Liverpool and used to be the council housing department of Sefton Council.  OVH have sent out a letter full of legalese to its tenants that is also full of factual error and ambiguity and goes on to ask (or should that be demand?) the tenant sign a disclaimer stating they have been fully informed of the bedroom tax issues.

The letter is appalling and it is offensive and it is just plain wrong. The 2 pages of this letter are below and simply click on them to make them bigger and readable

The letter starts with a very legalistic heading “Under Occupation Disclaimer” and the word ‘disclaimer’ will be perceived as legalese and a legal requirement by the tenant and something they have to sign, which they do not. But of course OVH don’t say this!

Apparently Jan Luba QC, who is renowned as perhaps the foremost housing law barrister working in housing, and with good reason, advised social landlords that it would be good practice to write to tenants with such a letter.  I have no objection to that good practice at all.  What I do object to and strongly is how OVH has applied that good advice…which is offensively inept! So please don’t try and worm you way out of this outrageous letter by trying to hide behind that!

The legal position has always been that a tenant is responsible for ensuring the rent is paid and in full – even if HB pay the rent in full and direct to the landlord as they sign the tenancy agreement to that effect!  So, firstly there is no legal need for this letter yet OVH gives to the tenant the precise opposite perception that the letter is legally needed and tenants need and have to sign it.  Using legalese such as ‘disclaimer’ to head up the letter and in the disclaimer section itself saying in its second sentence:

 “I understand that One Vision Housing can take legal action against me if I fail to pay me rent including any shortfalls as a result of these changes

Which then asks the tenant to sign and witness!!  Again witnessing smacks of a legal necessity yet there is no legal necessity at all as the bedroom tax does not change the legal position of the tenant one iota!

That is the current position and always has been!!  Yet OVH present this as being a legal change when it clearly is not and the whole tone of the letter appears threatening! What a way to treat your customer the tenant!!

Moreover the disclaimer states in its first sentence the following:

I confirm that the above information has been FULLY explained to me and understand that I WILL be responsible for paying any shortfall in our rent payments.”

You will note (updated typo as originally said you will NOT – slaps self on wrist!) I have emphasised two words in the above.  WILL is future tense not present or past tense and gives the impression that the legal position between landlord and tenant has changed or WILL change with the bedroom tax.  Yet it will not and nothing has changed.  Again it appears OVH are fundamentally misleading their tenant here and in a threatening coercive manner.

Either OVH do not realise that the legal position has not changed or they are admitting that their tenants don’t realise this (or are ‘thick as two-short planks’ in local jargon in Bootle).  What does that say about how OVH have advised and worked with tenants previously appears a minor point by comparison!

I also emphasised the word FULLY as in the tenant has been FULLY explained what the bedroom tax is and how it will apply.  Yet they haven’t been explained many things at all never mind fully (ie how come each tenant has been determined to be hit by the bedroom tax) but more significantly as the letter purporting to explain some elements of the bedroom tax is factually incorrect and in other parts ambiguous.

So this is not just a case of a badly drafted letter it is a case of the landlord doesn’t know what it is talking about!!

The letter has a table of who is eligible for a bedroom which is broadly correct yet contains one omission and one ambiguity.  The ambiguity we can forgive as it says one is eligible for an “Adult Couple” yet this would disallow a couple who are 16 or 17 which the regulations do not disallow.  A minor point perhaps but nonetheless a valid one. However it starts to go rapidly downhill in the factual stakes thereonin.

It gives the impression that a bedroom for an overnight non-resident carer is somehow discretionary and within the power of the local authority to determine.  The fact is the eligibility to a bedroom for this is a full exemption and OVH have this wrong and are misleading their tenants.  It also says the tenant needs to be on Attendance Allowance and the middle or higher rate of DLA as well! The issue is not as clear cut as that at all.

Carers UK along with 6 other national charities wrote to the Chancellor on 20th February over the treatment and eligibility of those with a disability and said: –

Whilst we welcomed the provision which exempts disabled people who needed a spare room for someone to stay overnight to look after them, this does not apply to carers who live with the people they care for. For example where one member of a couple has a disability and the couple cannot sleep in the same room. There is also ongoing uncertainty as to whether families will be able to have a separate room for a disabled child

No reference to AA there and this area is highly complex as Carers UK discuss here as the law does not define who is carer or even how often a carer stays overnight so it could be one night per year or every night. Yet OVH want to appear omniscient on the issue and that is reflected in the tome they set in the letter

Yes the same letter with a disclaimer for the tenant to sign to say they have been FULLY informed!!

One other general point here is this letter does not advise tenants that they have a right of appeal against any Housing Benefit decision and that is a scandalous omission and most definitely not good practice at all. Or does the letter state that an appeal can be made against the bedroom tax applicability or OVH’s role in this either – again hardly good practice and again not omniscient or informative.

Rather the letter has a disclaimer for the tenant to sign to say they have been FULLY informed!!

Frankly the whole letter smacks of for Christ sake pay us or we will take legal action and to hell with your individual tenant circumstances and misery and poverty and any other impact this pernicious bedroom tax has on you.  So much for the tenant as a valued customer and especially when they are being fundamentally misled into signing a legalese disclaimer which is not legally needed!!

Yet the letter has a disclaimer for the tenant to sign to say they have been FULLY informed and not misinformed or partly informed!!

The letter goes on: –

“If you have an extra bedroom(s) to accommodate children that you have access to, you will not receive housing benefit to cover the extra bedroom(s) in you home”

Tut! Tut! Yet more misleading and ambiguity from OVH.  They are addressing this to absent parents usually Fathers who have split up and have access to their children say of a weekend.  Yes that is correct but that is not what the letter says!!  Any mother or parent reading this with shared access with her ex-partner is allowed to have the bedrooms providing she has the Child Benefit book.  Yet reading the OVH wording it would appear that this is not the case!  Apart from this being woefully and misleadingly and ambiguously drafted the letter also doesn’t say or advise where you can seek advice on this which is a woeful and appalling oversight!

Rather the letter has a disclaimer for the tenant to sign to say they have been FULLY informed!!

The offensive letter continues:

“If you and your partner are of pension credit age these deductions will not apply to you however if one of you is below pension credit age they will

Oh dear oh dear OVH. Wrong again!  The mixed-age pensioner couple have transitional protection until the Universal Credit regulations kick-in from October 2013 and you have just made a lot of mixed-age pensioner couples very frightened indeed (though with the threatening tone of this letter in general at least that is consistent!)

Yet the letter has a disclaimer for the tenant to sign to say they have been FULLY informed!!

The last paragraph of page 1 again gives the distinct impression that the bedroom tax legally changes the landlord tenant relationship which we know reader is a fundamentally false one when it says:

When these changes are introduced you will be affected by them as you would be considered to be living in a property that has one or more bedrooms that you do not need.  You will therefore be responsible to pay to One Vision Housing any shortfall in your rent that has not been covered by housing benefit.”

I have highlighted 3 words and the first one “When” and the third one “therefore” are linked as the language suggests very strongly that this is a change.  The ‘when’ is a conditional proposition which is reaffirmed by ‘therefore’ and say loud and clear to the tenant that this is NOT the case now when it is!

Yet the letter has a disclaimer for the tenant to sign to say they have been FULLY informed!!

However the “considered” emphasis is a real concern.  It’s not our doing tenant and we played no part in this is what OVH are attempting to say – which is false as the landlord needs to inform HB of what bedroom they as landlord consider the tenants property to be.

Additionally that the decision has been taken already.  Now this interests me for a number of legal reasons for challenging any such decision.  If the decision has indeed already been taken then when does the period for appeal begin?  (Yes all the housing lawyers can have a field day with that one and it’s too lengthy to go into here!)

But if the decision or determination has been made or is even about to be made then why has OVH not informed its tenants about appealing any such decision?  Oh I see OVH only wants to inform tenants of what it wants to inform them about and not the FULL picture! I see

Yet the letter has a disclaimer for the tenant to sign to say they have been FULLY informed!!

OVH – This letter is shameful, factually incorrect and not worth the paper it is written on (not that there was ever a legal need to actually write on it in the first place!!) If your customer the tenant (sorry do you call them income generators or some similar term perhaps?) is angry, disaffected, offended and outraged by this woeful letter of yours which fundamentally misleads and decides to put a tick box in the “very displeased” column of the customer satisfaction survey you send them and that translates into you not getting a seat at the table for funding for pilot programmes or the like because of the massive drop in ‘income generator’ satisfaction……

PS OVH are any of the 664 shared ownership products in Sefton according to the 2011 census yours?  If so I do hope you haven’t sent this letter to them as they are exempt too – Yes you missed that out didn’t you!  One more time:

Yet the letter has a disclaimer for the tenant to sign to say they have been FULLY informed!!

So nice to know that OVH is omniscient in bedroom tax matters by being FULLY aware of it!

_________________________________________________________________________

The letter was obtained and posted by Combatbedroomtax who require much praise for getting this offensive letter out there and their original post is here just in case you can’t enlarge the pages below

One final point.  I don’t believe this thoroughly offensive letter can be seen as a typical example of how social landlords treat their tenants in the bedroom tax issue.  Yet if they all are perceived as badly as OVH deserve to be seen for this then …..nuff said!

ovhousing1 ovh2

UPDATE FRIDAY 8 MARCH

This issue is also the lead story on Inside Housing today and IH also have a report on Carl Brown visiting Bootle for an anti bedroom tax march in the last week which includes the following: –

More worrying for social landlords is the prospect of large numbers of tenants withholding rent, causing a spike in arrears. Last week Coast and Country Housing threw its weight behind a summit of tenant representatives from 19 north east associations who are planning a mass protest of 100,000 tenants, the date of which is yet to be decided. If tenants go one step further and refuse to pay rent en masse, landlords would face big problems.

Both One Vision Housing and another local landlord Cobalt Housing, a subsidiary of 39,000-home Symphony Housing Group, say they will use ground 8 eviction notices, which allow fast-track evictions, in extreme cases. Cobalt says an example of such circumstances would be if tenants were ignoring efforts to make contact about arrears. But there is a danger these cases could become more common.

Before OVH openly declaring they will use the despised Ground 8 arrears route (which in any case may not be open to them on proportionality grounds and other legal problems) there was universal condemnation of the OVH letter on Twitter with comments such as “what were they thinking!” and many similar. Now when seen in the context of openly declaring in the public domain that they will use Ground 8 has put my earlier comments about how many more tenants will taint and portray ALL OTHER social landlords as complicit in the bedroom tax – and this is despite the excellent efforts of Coast & Country above and other social landlords who have been ‘up for the fight’ such as WAL Housing and Riverside who I have applauded before for this – into a true context!!

Yet the average tenant will not remember the good works and challenges of Coast & Country and WAL Housing or Riverside will they? What they will remember, and use against ALL social landlords, is the OVH letter!

In business terms the OVH letter does for social landlords what Gerald Ratner did for his retail jewellery empire as it WILL be portrayed as an all out attack on tenants, and to do this when HB will shortly be paid to tenants and not landlords and thus radically shifting the control of the payment of rent away from the social landlord and being given to the social tenant is sheer bloody madness!!

What were they thinking? That assumes they did think doesn’t it!! Ahem!

OVH has made the job of the good social landlord so much more difficult and does for the much-needed good landlord tenant relationship what Hitler did for world peace and religious tolerance…or indeed our chippies in Bootle as Stan Boardman says! The significance of this outrageous letter cannot be underestimated as OVH who, with huge irony, were last week declared the best company in the UK to work for in the Sunday Times, have now become the worst landlord in the UK to have for the social tenant!!

For the past year or more I have argued that the welfare reforms pose a huge risk to social landlords and the social housing model IF the social landlord is not SEEN to be challenging the bedroom tax and other ‘reforms’ still to come. It is a risk to their reputation I have repeatedly said and that risk will come to fruition and back to bite them on their backsides when direct payment comes in. In overview I said social landlord if they adopt their usual view of social housing being about ‘bricks and mortar’ and not all about ‘people’ in the welfare reforms they will get a nasty surprise.

OVH has just proved that warning to be even worse than I have argued previously and the surprise is much much worse than I originally feared – ALL social landlords are in true Bootellian language up to their eyes in shite because of OVH!

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Bedroom Tax – Social landlord declares war on the social tenant

  1. “Social Landlords” is a misnomer. My ‘Social Landlord has become an empire of businesses.
    I remember the Department of Social Security. The name is now changed to the D.W.P.
    The D.W.P. now seem do their utmost to make less-well-off members of society as insecure as possible

  2. Makes me wonder if a legal loophole to the BT has been found and this letter, signed, seeks to circumvent that loophole.

    One stark example is the fact you sign to say you have been FULLY informed (and as you rightly point out, they haven’t); so ignorance of the law could be no excuse- remember these would be civil proceedings where a balanced consideration of the facts is the criterion in the final decision by a judge, not a ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ criterion as in criminal law.

Please leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s