I have said that all those affected by the bedroom ‘tax’ should challenge the bedroom ‘tax’ HB decision and used Liverpool City Council (LCC) best estimate of numbers affected to show this would send the entire system into meltdown.
Here I look at LCC’s discretionary housing payment (DHP) form as this is the suggested option of the government and increasingly the social landlord.
All bedroom tax affected tenants; the same 12,649 should also complete the DHP form then and not just challenge the bedroom tax HB decision. Ok I think I made the point enough that just challenging the bedroom tax decision would require LCC to have 632 HB-trained officers to deal with and then you throw-in 12,649 requests for a DHP this increases that workload significantly thus throwing the system into even more meltdown.
Such a suggestion would be naughty of me reader and I am not recommending or advocating you fill out a DHP form and why you will see soon enough!!!!!
All the while this massive increase in workload is going on for HB staff at the LA their day-to-day work of sorting all payments and decisions for all other social housing claimants and for private sector claimants still has to be done. But of course it can’t be can it?
OK let’s look at the DHP form and we discover yet another Kafkaesque nightmare that we are becoming very accustomed to in all bedroom tax matters!
The LCC DHP Form
- 6 pages in length
- Not fit for purpose
The not fit for purpose or in local language ‘about as much use as a chocolate teapot!’ My ‘onerous’ comment in local language is “You want what! Are you taking the …..!”
Page 1 – deals with the expected name, address, HB reference number details as you would expect. It asks whether you need help with HB or with HB and Council Tax…er? And then says:
“Please tell us how long you need this help
4 weeks ¨ 8 weeks ¨ 12 weeks ¨”
So it is up to 12 weeks then LCC? Well no because directly below it goes on to say:
“If longer than 26 weeks please tell us how long and why this would help”
So which box do you tick? Then the space they give you to explain why you want it for more than 26 weeks and your opportunity to say why is 1cm in height! Ok so this is just the form being not fit for purpose and surely there is a section which says put any additional information here? No there isn’t!
Page 2 – This is truly bizarre and bemusing but by no means the worst and is entitled “About your present address.”
Q. How much is your rent? – Ok a tenant should know that yet does it mean the rent level today or from April when it increases? A nit-pick reader? Possibly but the next question is…
Q. How much weekly Housing Benefit do you receive?
This question alone could justify 10 pages of comment from me. Liverpool City Council has not yet sent out any benefit notices to the bedroom ‘tax’ affected tenants, at least not to my knowledge, so how CAN the tenant possibly answer this? I could go on but suffice to say you cannot apply for a DHP in Liverpool ahead of the bedroom tax and you have to wait until it is imposed!
Next question is How much is the weekly shortfall?
In local language the answer is “How the f**k should I know you haven’t told me!”
Q. How much weekly Council Tax are you charged? Only answer is as above and the same correct answer to the next questions about how much the Council Tax is and how much you receive towards this as LCC has not sent these out yet.
It then asks “How much do you think you can afford to pay towards the shortfall?”
The above issues excepted what a leading question!! Though you can’t in any case answer until you have completed on pages 4 and 5 and 6 the section entitled:
“Part F Financial assessment Form (you must complete this section)”.
The guiding text under this says:
“We need to know about all your weekly income and outgoings and details of any savings. You must (LCC emphasis) send in bills and receipts as proof of the amount you have to pay and (My emphasis) a recent bank statement showing your savings and proof of earnings.
I am not going to argue at this point who has all this information and keeps it or any general comment about means-testing or similar; rather I simply state that in LCC if you don’t have a bank account you can’t get a DHP as the word ‘and’ above which I have highlighted is a conditional requirement. The second condition you have to meet and the first is you must send in bills and receipts.
How many articles have been written about the number of social tenants that do not have a bank account? Those that don’t have a bank account are highly likely to be the ones most in need of a DHP, the same who have to incur an additional cost of their gas and electric by paying at the Post Office or not having a direct debit option – yet LCC’s DHP form excludes them!!
So here we see a council practising financial exclusion on the financially excluded! You couldn’t make it up could you reader!! No wonder a DHP is coalition policy!
However I have saved the best till last. In the same section F the form asks for a list of you “Outgoings” and remember “…you must send in bills and receipts as proof of the amount you have to pay” – the first condition.
The bedroom tax tenant in Liverpool, and presumably across the country, needs to have the amounts of the following list of expenditure AND the bills and receipts for:
- Council Tax
- Water Rates
- Telephone (landline)
- Mobile Phone
- Internet / Broadband
- Food / Toiletries / Cleaning Products
- Travel Costs / Bus Fares
- Car Expenses (Car insurance / road tax / petrol)
- TV Licence
- Satellite / Digital TV Rental
- Insurance (including Life and Home Insurance i.e. Buildings and Contents)
- Mortgage payment
- Childcare / Maintenance
- Other (please tell us what this is)
So we see 18 possible expenditure areas for which LCC JB expect a social tenant to have bills and receipts for!! Further they expect tenants to send this in so presumably there may even be a cost for the tenant to add – that of photocopying his or her bus tickets!!
Does anyone get a mobile phone paper bill anymore (point 7) Does anyone get a paper landline bill anymore (point 6) or a gas, electric or other paper bill anymore? Surely the DHP form has missed out paper and printing costs as legitimate and necessary expenditure so such bills can be printed to give to the HB department to assess a DHP?
So that excludes any tenant without a computer or a printer as well then? Ahem!
No I haven’t finished reader this Kafkaesque nightmare gets even worse as the next sub-section of the tenant expenditure says:
“Please tell us about any other debts and regular expenses you have, for example Credit / Store Cards, Catalogue Payments, Hire Purchase Agreements, Personal Loans, Court Orders etc and provide supporting evidence.”
Aside from the provide supporting evidence bit and the above are just examples so there may be more expenditure items (ink cartridges to print out utility bills anyone?) and there follows a table for the tenant to complete with headings of:
- Name of Creditor and date purchased
- Balance £
- Weekly / Monthly Payment £
- What was the Loan / Card used for?
I see so in order to correctly complete a DHP form every tenant has to call up or write to Wonga to say can I have a written balance please which even if sent instantly will be £300 higher by the time you have sent this to the local HB department, and presumably Wonga will charge you for this as well, so where does that go on the form?
Point 4 above – what was loan used for may see some very creative answers from tenants even that it was taken out to pay off my credit card I had when working and had been using to pay my rent and food and bills while the HB department took 12 weeks to decide on my HB claim and while Jobcentre Plus took 8 weeks to pay my dole! I suggest these are not the answers the form expects reader!!
The next question is interesting that not obviously apparent. It asks “Have you made any enquiries about reducing the amounts you are repaying?” Presumably this could include the answer Yes I have asked my social landlord to reduce my rent as the current and previous coalition Housing Ministers advise private tenants to negotiate with their private landlords so I thought I would ask my social landlord!
Now that’s an interesting thought isn’t it? Asking your social landlord to reduce the rent! Only the same as what this government advises the private tenant to do after all! And given that every social landlord is taking every opportunity to get the social tenant to sign up for a direct debit ahead of direct payment of HB to the tenant – the landlord calls this supporting the tenant…ahem! – Yet isn’t offering any form of discount for a direct debit payment that is common practice elsewhere!!
Oh sod this, can’t be bothered anymore with this and suffice to say I have filled out many larger benefit forms for claimants for many years and have a modicum of intelligence and generally, but not in an anally retentive way, keep most receipts, I know I couldn’t fill out a DHP form and I suspect very few others in the entire country could either!
One final point is that the DHP forms were designed primarily for the private tenant as most social tenants have HB that covers the full 100% of rent and that rent goes directly to the social landlord. So prior to the bedroom tax and the direct payment of HB to the tenant change later this year I suggest that DHP applicants would be 90%+ private tenants.
Now when you see a standard question which asks do you want us to pay direct to your landlord it would be very cynical of you to think this is the reason social landlords are bussing out every member of staff to help their valued customer the social tenant fill out a DHP form! Ahem!