- Sefton Council has issued an unlawful Benefit Decision Notice to bedroom tax affected tenants and will have to quash these Notices, which are not worth the paper they are written on.
- Sefton Council will need to go back and do all of its estimated 3,666 bedroom tax decisions again at an estimated cost of £733,200
- Sefton Council will also need to go back and reassess 12,250 Council Tax decisions again at an estimated cost of £2.5m
- Sefton Council’s Housing Benefit and (former) Council Tax Benefit systems are not fit for purpose and will need to be amended to make them fit for purpose at a significant but unknown cost.
- Sefton Council’s Chief Executive, Head of Legal Services and Finance Director should be removed for their incompetence in the matters I reveal below which will cost Sefton taxpayers and ratepayers many millions of pounds.
This example of extreme incompetence and unlawful practices means that every one of the 3,666 bedroom tax affected tenant households have formal grounds of appeal through the HB tribunals, have an immediate case to all contact the Ombudsman for a maladministration claim and also gives some strong pointers to all of the 660,000 bedroom tax affected social tenant households nationally.
What has Sefton MBC done?
I have attached a letter from Sefton Council below which have been anonymised for obvious reasons of tenant confidentiality. This is a 2-page letter dated 05 Mar 2013 and titled “BENEFIT DECISION NOTICE.”
(a) Date – 5 March 2013. This is before the bedroom tax / under occupation charge comes into force on 1 April 2013. The guidance given to Sefton in the A4/2012 HB circulr and all other HB officers says at section 25:
” As an award notice cannot be sent before the legislation comes in to force…”
This is doubly confirmed when the same A4 / 2012 HB circular says at 35:
“Once a claimant’s under-occupancy has been confirmed they should receive a change of award letter from the local authority explaining exactly what this will mean in financial terms. This cannot be done until the regulations come into force.”
Immediately we see this letter is in clear breach of the guidance given to local authorities from central government which they must follow. Sefton have to go back and do these again in any case for the simple date reason. The titling of this letter as a BENEFIT DECISION NOTICE proves there is no ambiguity what Sefton Council believe this letter to be.
This is the most minor issue I have about the lawfulness and incompetence of Sefton MBC yet it also means that any tenant who has received a benefit decision notice from their council that it also is not worth the paper it is written on and their council will need to go back and do they all again!!
Briefly, a Notice is a legal document and this Notice has not been served because it cannot be legally served until 1 April. It is unlawful and deficient.
(b) “BENEFIT DECISION NOTICE” – This true incompetence and unlawfulness of this Sefton Council letter is that a benefit decision NOTICE like all Notices not only has to be served on you correctly, it also needs to contain specific information to be a valid Notice and this means it needs to tell the tenant how they can challenge the decision.
Sefton Council are seeking in this letter to deny the legal right of every tenant to appeal this decision and not just being incompetent by issuing an unlawful Notice!
On the reverse of this letter is a section which says “What can I do if I’m not happy with the decision that has been made on my claim?” Then under the title “Housing Benefit” it says:
“Contact us within 1 calendar month of the date of this letter and you can either:
Ask for an explanation
Ask us to look again at the decision
That is legally incorrect and it says nowhere on this form and letter that the tenant has an absolute right of appeal – In simple and indisputable terms this letter is UNLAWFUL.
The official guidance in the A4/2012 which I restate the local authority has to follow even produces a standard letter for Sefton and all other councils to use on this point. It says:
If you disagree with this decision you can:
• Write to the benefits section and ask for a detailed statement as to how we arrived at the decision shown in this letter.
• Write to the benefits section within one month of the date of this letter and ask us to reconsider our decision. We will look at your claim again and write to you.
• Write to the benefits section within one month of the date of this letter making a formal appeal. We will review our decision. If we cannot change the decision in your favour, your appeal will be passed directly to the independent Appeals Service.
Asking for a statement or for us to review your claim does not take away your right to submit a formal appeal.”
How clear-cut is that!
Aside from not informing tenants of their appeal rights Sefton Council’s wording also does not say the claimant (the tenant) has to put their matters in writing too. A very significant point! Do Sefton Council want 3,666 tenants to simply turn up at their one stop shop offices to orally ask for an explanation? The “I don’t recall that conversation” defence perhaps? Remembering of course that asking for information or asking the council to reconsider costs the council in time and cost!
The verbal or oral direction of challenge Sefton are attempting to limit tenants to here in this scandalous unlawful letter also contradicts the last sentence above in the official guidance which says:
Asking for a statement or for us to review your claim does not take away your right to submit a formal appeal
To recap and summarise here there are 2 issues I have discussed (a) the date issue and (b) the benefit decision notice issue. Time to look at them in what they mean for ALL 660,000 bedroom tax affected tenants.
(a) Date issues
WHEREVER YOU LIVE, IF you have received or you do receive a purported “Benefit Decision Notice” from your council relating to the bedroom tax before or date before 1 April 2013 it is unlawful. Your council will have to go back and do it all again as this is a deficient Notice in law
May I ask any tenant to simply comment below this and simply put Glasgow YES or Luton NO etc – and we can build up a good ides of how many unlawful and deficient notices have been sent out by local councils. So I will start this by saying “Sefton YES” and that way we can get a picture of how many councils don’t know what they are doing and that will have implications for challenges, formal HB appeals and for any direct legal challenges such as Judicial Review.
The date issue also raises a ground for formal HB appeal of all 3,666 bedroom tax affected tenants in Sefton and by extension to all the estimated 660,000 nationally affected – WHEN was this decision taken?
We know it must have been before 5 March 2013 as that is the date of the letter and so the decision was taken BEFORE the DWP issued changes to exemptions under this policy for foster carers and soldiers! The decision has been taken without full knowledge of the facts in other words and cannot be relied upon is the appeal issue here. This is especially the case for the bedroom tax affected household with soldiers as no council up and down the country has asked for information on whether a soldier lives in the household yet they did ask for foster carers information.
In simple terms no HB department up and down the country has made a decision on which they can be ‘satisfied’ is correct in my view.
Cost of doing it all again?
The costs I have used here are the DWP derived figure of £200 for each review of the decision by the council so the 3,666 bedroom tax affected cases in Sefton is estimated at an additional cost of £733,200 to the council.
Sefton Central has 1,091 cases; Southport has 1,232 cases; and Bootle 1,343 cases according to the National Housing Federation figures released a few weeks back.
Sefton MBC also has 33,010 according to the DWP Housing and Council Tax Benefit statistics – the official statistics and note well how HB and CTB figures are always together and of these 37.11% (12,250) will be of working-age as a national average and as this letter states liable in Sefton for 20% of their council tax replacement bill. Yet Sefton Council’s assessments of these cannot be trusted.
To explain why all working-age council tax replacement must be re-assessed, the 12,250, is due to other letters I have seen from Sefton Council to bedroom tax affected tenants. These say the original figure of £1,156.12 has been discounted by the 25% single person discount to be £867.09 per year (Correct) and this is the tenants liability (False). Yet these are bedroom tax affected tenants currently on full HB because their only income is JSA or IS. The correct figure would be 20% of this £867.09 figure or £173.42 per year.
What this means is that Sefton Council’s finance departments figures for Council Tax and Housing Benefit cannot be trusted! Sefton Council has the HB data figures for these tenants to use for bedroom tax purposes so they know that Mrs Jones of 1 Bootle Street, Bootle for example is on Income Support or any other benefits to determine the bedroom tax liability. Yet if there systems were as they should they would use this information which they have to also determine council tax liability too. But they have not clearly else the number of tenants council tax liability letters I have seen would say this is £173.42 per year and not £867.09 per year as Sefton Council claim!
In simple terms if you cannot trust Sefton Council’s figures for Council Tax then how can they be trusted for Bedroom Tax!
This again gives a legitimate and significant ground for a formal HB appeal to all 3,666 bedroom tax tenants in Sefton and that appeal right must also be extended to 12,250 working age council tax recipients there.
In other words Sefton must go back and do these again as it financial systems for which they rely upon to assess the Bedroom Tax and Council Tax are not fit for purpose in my view. So to all other bedroom tax affected persons wherever you live if you know of new council tax replacement assessments that are wrong then that same appeal and challenge ground for bedroom tax applies to you.
Finally – how can the Director of Finance at Sefton Council whose department has just cost the council an additional £3m+ be allowed to remain in post? Similarly how can the head of legal or the ‘monitoring officer’ who is the person who checks a council’s legal liabilities have allowed such a deficient and unlawful Notice to have been sent out in the council’s name? Also the buck stops with the Council’s Chief Executive, Margaret Carney, for allowing this incompetence, unlawfulness and outright denial of the legal rights of vulnerable people to have happened?
Note how the letter from Sefton doesn’t say bedroom tax or under occupation charge anywhere. It simply deducts the 14% figure from the £81.81 per week rent to give the £70.36 per week amount of Housing Benefit to be paid – £81.81 less 14% is £70.36 a reduction of £11.45 per week.
And then the errant figure for council tax replacement of £867.09 is a further £16.67 per week making a £28.12 overall ‘tax’ and payment figure on £71.70 per week JSA/IS leaving the tenant £43.58 per week to pay for gas, electric, water rates, insurances, clothing, travel and of yes nearly forgot FOOD!!
Even the correct figure of £3.34 per week council tax added to the £11.45 per week bedroom tax makes a £14.79 per week deduction – a 20.63% reduction in income in one of the lowest rent areas in the country.
You still think the bedroom tax and the welfare reform is fair?
PS – Yes Sefton is the same area where One Vision Housing, who took over the former Sefton Council housing issued the not worth the paper it was written on alleged legal ‘disclaimer’ letter I informed you about a week or so ago!
Guess what reader Adactus Housing Group has also issued such a disclaimer letter too which I will publish with comment very shortly as in some parts this is worse than the One Vision Housing one!
The offensive and unlawful Sefton Council letters are below