Bedroom Tax – Why social tenants are treated less favourably than private tenants

I have just listened to today’s Radio 4 Programme You & Yours which featured the bedroom tax and specifically how it impacts on disabled people.  The iPlayer to listen is here.

Part of this has already been commented upon on the BBC News and the BBC website and that part is Grant Shapps MP, the former Housing Minister and now Conservative Party Chairman admitting that Cameron misled parliament at this week’s PMQs by saying that those with a disabled child and exempt and those that need round the clock care are exempt.  They are not and see the BBC website report here and my much more detailed blog about this PMQ misleading of parliament is here.

Note, please excuse the BBC saying that merely doubt has been cast on the exemption or not of these groups of people as the regulations (A4/2012) clearly say this as my post above shows in a readable manner.

HOWEVER, do not think that this is all that was revealed on You & Yours.  Not only did Shapps confirm Cameron misled parliament he himself also lied – and as a former Housing Minister he must know the facts that appear on the governments own housing websites so these are knowing mistruths or lies – and on numerous occasions too!

Shapps speaking is at 43.50 in to the 55 minute programme but if you listen to it begin from 43.45 onwards which recounts a harrowing tale of what this is really all about.  A mother with 2 sons and one of which is severely autistic and has learning difficulties and the bedroom tax blanket policy means the two sons must share a bedroom.  Yet the autistic son chews through live electrical wires and can’t have any of them in his room.  When they did share in the past he constantly bit his brother and bruised him (and the same to the Mother too). He can’t have anything electrical in his room so the housing need and current situation which sees each brother having a room allows the healthy son to escape being abused by his brother, as that is what this amounts to and also can do his homework in peace, or just get some peace or even safety when needed.

The having of a bedroom each has allowed the healthy sibling to have a life in other words and is a clear housing NEED!

Shapps wants to focus away from this and similar cases (another case history was given at 1.24 to 9.02 in the programme) and instead wishes to lay blame for the housing shortage on the last Labour government as you would imagine, and partly correctly, though the problem goes back to Thatcher and selling off 2m RTB social housing properties which were never replaced.  It is here that Shapps makes some incredulous claims and lies.

Shapps says nobody raised an eyebrow when the last Labour government allowed social housing waiting lists to double and – in the interests of ‘fairness’ – why should we pay for spare rooms when (and I quote verbatim):

“…there were 4 to 5 million families in that time with literally no roof over their head at all!”

Now Grant Shapps when in opposition as the Shadow Housing Minister spoke very regularly and knowledgably about rough sleepers so he knows there wasn’t 4 to 5 million people who had LITERALLY NO ROOF OVER THEIR HEAD AT ALL which is what he said.

Now I am prepared to accept that if Grant Shapps said this once it could be construed as a simple mistake.  Yet he said it three times in 7 minutes!!  This was and is a deliberate and known lie from Shapps and said to deliberately mislead.  Cameron may well have just not known the details of the bedroom tax policy when he misled parliament; yet that would be excuse in any case as Cameron knew a bedroom tax question was coming and had prepared for it, however appallingly badly.  Shapps on the other hand has spoken about housing for many years and been a minister of housing for many years and knows full well about rough sleepers and the roofless – those literally with no roof over their head at all!

In the programme he was challenged by the presenter about the housing shortages and the Carmichael couple (the 1.24 – 9.02 part of the programme) who had looked to downsize to a 1 bed property which would fit in the wife’s single hospital bed for her spina bifida and a bed for her husband and could not even with the help of the landlord find one.

When challenged by this Shapps rudely interrupted the presenter and stated incredulously and offensively: –

“…for every case you show me I’ll find you a family on the waiting list who literally have no roof over their heads!”

This repeated use of this known lie by Shapps, the same MP who coined the “Spare Room Subsidy” as the Tory version of the bedroom tax that nobody uses, was deliberate from Shapps and spoken with more than a trace of anger and frustration in his voice too.

Further, Grant Shapps also knows about private rented housing and how it works too.  Again he has commented and spoken on this knowledgably for many years. So when he said at 51.10 into the programme that; –

“…in the private sector you NEVER get benefit for a spare room”

– With stress on the NEVER in his voice he must also have known he was fibbing again!

Presumably and understandably and especially for the consummate politician Shapps is at avoiding a direct question, the anger / frustration in his voice reflected that he knew he had just grassed-up his boss Cameron misleading parliament.

The way rooms and bedrooms are assessed in private rented housing is very different from the way the bedroom tax assesses them for social housing.  The private sector has a far more favourable treatment of rooms and bedrooms than the bedroom tax and social tenants are being discriminated against in room and bedroom assessments.

Now hang on Joe that can’t be right as everyone says it is the same and indeed the bedroom tax is merely putting social housing on the same level playing field as privately rented in the payment of benefit for rooms and bedrooms!

Reader why do you believe this bullshit the Tories are saying? Sorry being a bit harsh on you there reader as social landlords, social tenants and the Labour Party all believe the same bullshit too!

OK I will explain.

Housing Benefit for a privately rented property including what counts or not a bedroom or even a boxroom is assessed by the independent Rent Officer from the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) and the Rent Officer says after following government guidance in what is called the Rent Officer Handbook, how many bedrooms the property has.  That independent assessment determines how much housing benefit is paid on the private property.  In social housing the HB decision maker at the council simply takes the social landlords word for how many bedrooms.

Now what the Rent Officer Handbook says here is critical and the discrimination will jump out at you when you read it says (see Deciding what constitutes a room / bedroom): –

Under the Housing Benefit Scheme, rent officers treat bedrooms and rooms suitable for living interchangeably, Local Reference Rents are based on total number of habitable rooms (bedrooms and living rooms, but including dining rooms, some conservatories and living kitchens. Under the Local Housing Allowance Scheme, the LHA is based on numbers of bedrooms alone

Too much jargon reader? Ok I will put it simply.  For the social tenant every room (dining rooms, conservatories etc) is treated as a potential bedroom for assessing the bedroom tax; yet in private rented only bedrooms are considered for the payment of LHA (the private sector version of housing benefit)

More simply, the more rooms that can be deemed a potential bedroom the more likely the bedroom tax will apply!! In short the private tenant is treated MORE FAVOURABLY in terms of housing for benefit purposes than a social tenant!

Yet this blatant and clear discrimination does not stop there as a well known and seen case demonstrates.  One of the first TV News programmes a few weeks back on the bedroom tax featured a disabled couple who had in their social housing property a through-ceiling lift.  This lift took up so much space in the upstairs ‘bedroom’ that a bed could not fit in that room.  Now let’s look at how that is treated in (a) social housing and (b) private housing.

(a) Social Housing – we know from the TV News report which highlighted this that the upstairs room was treated and counted as a bedroom and thus the family suffer the bedroom tax.  Yet: –

(b) Private housing – the Rent Officer would decide, following the RO Handbook guidance and correctly that this was not a bedroom.

How can it be that a ‘bedroom’ is counted as a bedroom for housing benefit bedroom tax purposes yet the exact same ‘bedroom’ is deemed a ‘boxroom’ and not a bedroom for private sector housing benefit!!

Of course that doesn’t stop Grant Shapps and the rest of the Coalition from simply reciting the errant mantra that the bedroom tax is all about fairness and simply adopting what we have now for a private tenant!  Or indeed Grant Shapps stating on today’s You & Yours that “…in the private sector you NEVER get money for a spare room!”

I hope this DIRECT DISCRIMINATION against the disabled social tenant forms part of the legal case.  If not I am sure Rosa Curling the solicitor involved in this case who appeared and spoke on the programme too can possibly add this or if not another case will use it to show clearly how this is a direct discrimination against the disabled and social tenant in the bedroom tax policy.

The rest of this post is of no legal consequence as the courts must be so used to Coalition politicians fibbing about the bedroom tax and the rest of the welfare reforms just as the rest of us are. Though in general terms as I have said before the private sector landlord simply doesn’t DO disability as this example highlights as it means the private landlord would only receive the 2 bed rate of housing benefit (LHA) and not the higher 3 bed LHA rate and so would receive less money.

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4 thoughts on “Bedroom Tax – Why social tenants are treated less favourably than private tenants

  1. Local Housing Allowance actually hit Private Tenants very hard over the past two years. Families found that if they were oversubscribed on bedrooms they DID NOT receive full benefit. (This is an aside from your ‘box room’ argument which is clearly valid, but we must not forget the impact of LHA on the private sector.)

    An example:

    Disabled Mum in a couple with one child takes on three bedroom house because she often needs to sleep separately from her partner because of effects of her disability, for example, incontinence. That family will not be allowed full housing benefit because according to LHA rules they do not need that many rooms.

    The potential for these families, in attempting to make up a huge shortfall in benefit themselves, and often failing to end up homeless is huge. Local authorities are refusing to house them because they have, by being unable to afford to pay their rent for a room they need, but the councils say they don’t, by saying they are ‘intentionally homeless’.

    These people can end up in hostels and worse… the LHA is a bedroom tax.

    1. Yes it has but not for reasons you state. LHA has never meant to cover the full rent and invariably does not. LHA rates have been (a) changed from 50th percentile down to 30th, (b) were frozen in 2012/13 or a zero increase if you prefer and (c) were also capped in 2011 and 2012 – None of these changes were changed because of the number of bedrooms

  2. According the the government’s own statistics, there are around17.9 million families in the UK (2011 figure).
    If 4 – 5 million of those had been living on the streets at some stage, that would amount to roughly one in four families, wouldn’t it? I can’t believe I don’t know any of them – or even that I wasn’t among them!

    Ok, I know my calculation is over simplistic and rough, but I bet it’s way more accurate than Shapps’ claims.

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