A major problem with the bedroom tax is the response to it. The focus must be on the solutions and not dwelling on the problems…at least until we get rid of this pernicious and unjust policy which I say can be done by starting with a simple letter here.
Focus on the solution and not on the problem!!!
What I mean by that is below but before I come to two examples of what I mean some general information. I am a housing consultant. A ‘consultant’ is a grandiose title and I prefer trouble-shooter or at least what we all see that meaning someone who solves problems and not ‘consultant’ as in asking you the time, charging you for it, then stealing your watch or as somebody brought in to allegedly give an independent view on a company’s pre-determined decision to justify downsizing 50% of the staff!
I despise the bedroom tax and began writing about it on my blog as recently as January 21st 2013 and just before it became a massive media story. My blog posts for the whole of 2012 concentrated on other housing and welfare issues mainly the overall benefit cap which holds far more damaging implications for the social tenant and social landlord than the bedroom tax. My blog was well read but since writing about the bedroom tax the views have increased 17-fold, a huge increase.
I get no income from blogging and refuse to place advertising on the blog site nor do I have a donate button. In fact blogging about the bedroom tax costs me money as the time spent on it would otherwise be chargeable and realise income. I argue and at times rant about the bedroom tax because I personally and professionally maintain it is unjust and ill conceived with little pre-thought as to its impacts by the government, which will end up costing the taxpayer more.
Yet instead of focussing on the problems or the impacts as the media and largely social landlords have done, I instead focus on the solutions.
Example 1 – I was asked by numerous people to help JB a tenant and I agreed to.
JB lives in a 3 bedroomed property that only has 2 bedrooms. Eh? Yes it reads strange but is correct, in fact and in law. 8 years ago she moved into a 3 bedroomed property which had 3 bedrooms. Yet 8 months ago a vertical lift was installed from her sole living room into what WAS the 3rd bedroom. However, to install the vertical lift the landlord had to take a wall out of the FORMER third bedroom and the door. So this former bedroom is no longer even a room and is a mere ‘space’ or communal area.
Bedroom needs to be a room. A room needs to be enclosed and capable of exclusive occupation in law and the term ‘room’ is not a term of art it has its ordinary meaning.
The reality and fact since the vertical lift was installed is that the property changed from a 3 bedroomed one with 3 bedrooms to a 3 bedroomed one with only 2 bedrooms.
The solution was to ask the landlord to amend the tenancy agreement by way of a deed of variation to say that the tenant rents 2 bedrooms and not 3. I have done this and I will update you on the outcome.
Note: this is an ongoing case and yes has many other issues which I will discuss when resolved OR I will elaborate fully if the landlord refuses the deed of variation solution which the landlord must know is correct and is merely the tenancy agreement amended to reflect the contract between the parties that exists.
Example 2 – The non-resident carer exemption.
I was also asked to look at this issue and did which was my choice and please note I can’t get involved with every issue as I need to put food on my table and I only have 24 hours in a day the same as everyone else.
This issue like the JB case above raises some general issues and in this case I use it here to highlight something that everyone should be aware of – that the spare room exemption for a non-resident carer only applies if the tenant or the partner of the tenant needs the non-resident carer.
[SHOUT THIS FROM THE ROOFTOPS – THE NON-RESIDENT CARER IS A PARTIAL EXEMPTION NOT A FULL ONE AND WILL EMBARRASS THE GOVERNMENT NO END!!
The tenant lives in a 4 bed house with a 16 year old son with high level disability issues and needs, including non-resident overnight care which is including in the care plan he has. The tenant also has 4 year old twins also with high level disability issues and needs and the property is fully adapted. Yet they are liable for the bedroom tax as the son not the tenant needs the overnight non-resident carer.
Solution: Ask the landlord to make the 16 year old son a joint tenant. Then he can have this alleged ‘spare’ room and the household is exempt from the bedroom tax.
This is also an ongoing issue and again I have kept the landlord name out of this as if they choose to accept, in both cases, the solutions then I see no reason to attack the social landlords.
Both examples above highlight how focusing on the solution and not the problem is what is needed. As my suggestion to all 660,000 of those affected by the bedroom tax to challenge the benefit decision notice they receive is. The solution does NOT lie in marches or protests whether they be organised by a political party or activists. They have their place yes in bringing about pressure on the government to look again but getting all 660,000 to write a simple first letter of challenge creates so much more pressure and more quickly.
I now address the rest of this to the housing professional reader, housing officer, housing manager, social landlord CEO, housing lobby groups such as CIH and NHF – in short the social rented sector.
Example 1 is unusual and yes not all vertical lifts take out walls and thereby create a space not a room. And an adaptation that could also render a 3 bedroomed property as one with 2 bedrooms could be a wet room for a wheelchair user. But why should the social landlord in this case lose rent as it drops from a 3 bed to a 2 as that is unfair. Yes it is unfair yet they need not lose any rent at all and will not get in trouble with the regulator for having a 3 bed rent figure on a 2 bed. If that view held then no social landlord would adapt a property at all in the future as the social landlord would lose income just as a private landlord loses income now and does not put in adaptations for that reason. It also avoids any overpayment issue with HB or the tenant by setting a 3 bed rent on this now 2 bed – that is the correct decision. If a landlord can’t explain to any regulator or to HB why this is needed then they can’t argue themselves out of a wet paper bag can they? This is an easy argument. Oh the rent setting software won’t allow or any similar excuse – for that is what they are – they the software needs updating or the rent setting policy needs updating, and all similar excuses simply reveal how ill-thought through the policy is as it didn’t think of these issues.
Example 1 is not a bedroom tax issue at all; it is a simple and basic law of contract issue that every housing officer should know let alone every social landlord in a corporate capacity. It also means in this case where the landlord has a no reclassification of property policy that it wouldn’t breach this as it is not a reclassification issue ala KHT, it is a basic legal issue of fact. Yet the corporate social landlord response is one of proverbially having its head up its own backside to normal mundane everyday housing issues because the bedroom tax preoccupies that mindset.
A supreme irony is that just as the social landlord has its head up its backside it fails to take account that the tenant has this to a much more serious degree. They are expected to make life-changing decisions about whether to move home, to disrupt every aspect of their family life, to uproot their children from schools, to move away from their familial and other support networks because of the imposition of the bedroom tax. The social landlord may take the wrong decisions and ignore the bloody obvious one as in example 1 because of the bedroom tax so how much worse is it for the social tenant!!
All social landlords have pithy slogans and glossy corporate livery and brochures which say they care about the social tenant. Yet in their unending zeal to get all tenants on direct debits and their misguided prioritising of their asset registers they miss so many simple and obvious points. All social landlords should be four-square behind challenging the bedroom tax and publicly so and instead they prevaricate and think erroneously that to challenge would be seen as political. Absolute tosh! Get your brains out of your backside and realise the bedroom tax is simply the government passing a £500m per year financial liability onto you, the social landlord and an attack on the social housing model itself. It is an attack on YOUR industry nothing more nothing less and if you can’t stand up and fight for your own survival you certainly can’t stand up and fight for the poor social tenant. YOUR industry and who the hell comes into it or stays in it for the money it pays!! You stay in social housing as you believe in social housing and all it means, so bloody well grow a set!
The social landlord too is focusing on the problem and not on the solutions to the bedroom tax. Its time they woke up as coffee smells very nice!
I don’t want to be kicking social landlords for the above issues and why I have not named them and there is already some same-day movement on these issues. They are both large RSLs / HAs who should have seen the wood from the trees but didn’t.
I would much rather focus the ‘kicking’ on the government for this back-of-a-fag-packet policy and in both the above cases it concerns disability.
Ask yourself just how much political mileage there is in embarassing the bumptious oaf IDS over this and the government generally. How can it be acceptable that a spare room for a non-resident carer is ONLY acceptable if the one requiring such high level care is not the tenant or the partner of the tenant but just a child or an other member of the household?
Is that why IDS and the coalition have not done a full equality impact assessment on how the bedroom tax affects those with a disability? Or is that precisely why they haven’t done one as this would emerge!
IF a disabled adapted property that adapts a former bedroom with a vertical lift or a wet room or any other adaptation sees the social landlords loses out financially as this means the property only attracts a 2 bed rent and not a 3 bed, then will social landlords stop installing these adaptations? Is that why IDS and the DWP didn’t do a full EIA on the bedroom tax with regards to disability?
If so then as the private landlord doesnt adapt properties for the same financial issue then no landlord will fit any disabled adaptations will they?
Still think you have thought this through IDS? Does the mean the entire policy is discriminatory to all those that are disabled all you lawyers out there?
Oh dear! Still think this is thought through IDS? Still think you can sell this to the ‘hearts and minds’ of the general public as fair? That has been your strategy all along yet you were forced to backtrack and exempt (EXISTING ONLY) foster carers and the admittedly tiny amount of soldiers last week as along with the dropping of the Burnip et al severely disabled children case you KNOW the public see these as deserving cases and you entire strategy was in danger. We can’t wait so the general public see that only a tiny and likely single figure percentage of disabled children get a room of their own either and I tip my hat for the cunning piece of political sophistry that you pulled in hoodwinking the general public to perceive that ALL disabled children are so entitled. I know they are not and so do you and then putting the blame on local councils by not making disabled childrern exempt by putting that at the discretion of LAs who will then be blamed was almost Machiavellian…but only almost!!
READER – Just so you can fully appreciate what I am saying here you need to look at the purported impact assessment released in June 2012 by the DWP and at the final page:
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.
IN OTHER WORDS THEY KNOW THEY HAVENT DONE AN ASSESSMENT YET ARE STILL GOING AHEAD WITH THE POLICY AND RUNNING SOME RESEARCH IN PARALLEL TO SEE JUST HOW BLOODY BADLY THIS IMPACTS ON THOSE WITH A DISABILITY!!