The Janet Bell case – How to challenge the bedroom tax and win

How can a 3 bedroomed property only have 2 bedrooms?

Janet Bell is a tenant of Liverpool Mutual Homes (LMH) and she received her post today at 1.45pm which included a Benefit Decision Notice from the council to say she is NOT subject to the bedroom tax.

Two weeks ago I received numberous calls and emails from friends and colleagues who asked if I could help Janet out.  Her case had been in the local paper the Liverpool Echo and also on the regional news programmes Look North and Granada Reports. As to me her case was an obvious one ripe for challenge and the fact she lives about a mile from where I grew up I arranged to meet with her.

Janet had a vertical lift installed from her sole living room to what was the former 3rd bedroom.  Former because to install the vertical lift a wall had been removed from the former 3rd bedroom meaning it was not even a room let alone a bedroom.  This point was obvious as soon as I saw it and I told Janet this and said I would help her to challenge this all the way if necessary at no cost to her.  Janet had received a letter her landlord had sent out to her saying she was likely to face a 14% bedroom tax deduction.

Janet was already in correspondence with LMH over this and I understood the landlord’s legitimate concerns which are numerous.

If they reclassified the property from a 3 bed to a 2 bed which was one option and one that Knowsley Housing Trust (KHT) have done then they would lose out financially.  That is not fair as before the lift was installed it was a 3 bedroomed property.  This also means the bedroom tax policy is unfair.  Further to this here we have a landlord who put 50% of the cost of the vertical lift and that is not fair. Again the bedroom tax policy is decidedly unfair. If that was the only option it would mean that no social landlord would ever install a major disability adaptation ever again.  Again we see the bedroom tax policy is unfair and illogical and discriminatory.That was and is a nightmare scenario and also replicates the current private rented sector and why private landlords do NOT install such adaptations.  If they do the Rent Officer would rule, correctly, that the property only had two bedrooms and thus only attract the 2 bed rate of LHA and not the 3 bed rate and that is why private landlords don’t install as they receive less rent.  Yet it also exposes a discriminatory aspect of the bedroom tax policy as if the social landlord says it’s a 3 bed property then the HB officer decides it has 3 bedrooms and applies the bedroom tax deduction.  Whereas if Janet was a private tenant and had a private landlord the same HB officer would say it was a 2 bed! This reveals how the bedroom tax policy is unfair and does, discriminatory, penalise the social tenant more than the private tenant.

Hence when IDS or any other politician says the bedroom tax for social tenants is just the same as LHA is for the private tenant and thereby fair and equitable, they are being knowingly disingenuous and telling a huge lie

The obvious solution for me was that LMH should issue a deed of variation.  This is simply a legal letter agreed and signed which reflected what the contract between Janet and LMH was – Janet was renting a 3 bedroomed property that only had 2 bedrooms.  Yet would that also see the council saying only a 2 bed rent should be applied?  Tricky!

Note well here that when the National Housing Federation put out a paper to say a property has the number of bedrooms the landlord says and/or if your tenancy agreement says 3 bed then its a 3 bed are fundamentally mistaken.  What you have is a matter of fact and a matter of law and a social landlord is not above the law.

It also means that when the highly prescriptive guidance from the Secretary of State to HB officers nationally – and the A4/2012 runs to 48 pages – steers the HB Officer to ask a landlord for details of a PROPERTY and not the number of bedrooms each property has that such a highly prescriptive steer reveals the bedroom tax guidance on the decision-making process is ill-considered and irrational.

Janet’s case, despite being a seemingly obvious case and the 3rd bedroom is not even a room(!!) needed some creative thinking to resolve.  As usual this comes down to a simple solution and involved my asking LMH on behalf of Janet to state the vertical lift did make the 3rd bedroom a former bedroom and to copy that letter to the council and to Janet.  In that letter I also argued that the council could not and should not reduce the HB level from a 3 bed to a 2 bed and also argued having an in essence 2 bed property with a 3 bed rent level would not put LMH in any trouble with the housing regulator. LMH to their credit did this and did this very quickly and sent such a letter to Janet and to the council and copied me in on this too.  This could then be used to ask the council to think again and also that this was an unusual case but not that unusual (see below) which exposed the deficiencies and I would argue irrationality of the bedroom tax decision-making process.

LMH had like all landlords and through a data sharing protocol given the council details of its properties (and again note a property is not the same as the number of bedrooms each property contains) such as its Asset Register which the District Valuer uses for rateable purposes That asset register or simple list of its properties would, correctly, state that Janet’s property is a 3 bedroomed property despite only having 2 bedrooms. If and when Janet ever moves out the lift can be removed and a wall put back to make it a 3 bedroomed property with 3 bedrooms as it was originally.

I had also spoken with many councillors at the council over this who assured me that when we asked the council to think again that the letter would be treated very quickly.  So I drafted the letter and went to see Janet with it so she could sign it and then intended to submit this to the council.  While discussing this with Janet the post arrives…

A letter from the council, a benefit decision notice to say Janet was not subject to the bedroom tax deduction!!

Janet who like every one of the 660,000 other tenants has been stressed to death over the bedroom tax still didn’t believe what was in front of her in black and white!  It means you’ve won Janet I told her yet she still had to phone her landlord LMH who confirmed to her that her rent account shows that she is not subject to the bedroom tax. I just needed to hear that Janet told me!

I played a small part in this.  LMH as the landlord played another part.  Councillors played a part in this and the Council made the correct decision and many deserve credit for their part in this good news story just before the pernicious ill-conceived, ill thought through, and irrational bedroom tax policy hits 659,999 others who are just like Janet.

Janet has been through the mill just like all others, she has been stressed to death just like all others affected and you would think it not like many others given the unusual circumstances of her case with the vertical lift installation making the former 3rd bedroom not even a room.

However, it has been stated that 100,000 of the 660,000 bedroom tax affected homes have disabled adaptations in them.  Let’s discount say 75% of them as not affecting a bedroom as they may simply be grab rails or ramps or vibrating pillows or other small sensory disability adaptations such as a flashing door bell.  That still leaves 25,000 who may have had a former bedroom converted into a walk in shower/wet room for a wheelchair user for just one example and who will be living in a 3 bedroomed property with only 2 bedrooms like Janet.

Does that mean 25,000 social properties will have their rent reduced to a two bed and cost social landlords £250k per week or £13m per year?  Why should a responsible social landlord suffer financially for installing at their cost a major disability adaptation?  Would it mean that a social landlord will now refuse to install such greatly needed adaptations?  Yes it would and that exposes the irrationality of the bedroom tax policy. 

It also shows very clearly that a property is not the same as the number of bedrooms it holds and presents a very strong formal appeal ground to all 660,000 bedroom tax affected tenants.

Janet wants every tenant just like her to get some hope from her win and they should and despite the fact her bloody obvious clear-cut case taking my involvement along with the landlords and councillors and the council itself being involved.  Yet Janet is also concerned with raising false hope in others affected by the bedroom tax and her case shows a simple matter still requires a lot of thought, time and effort as well as involvement.

Yet Janet is right it should raise hope in the other 660,000.  In explaining her case in full detail; her straightforward case I have emboldened key issues above to highlight that even in this simplest case:

  • This also means the bedroom tax policy is unfair
  • Again the bedroom tax policy is decidedly unfair
  • Again we see the bedroom tax policy is unfair and illogical and discriminatory
  • This reveals how the bedroom tax policy is unfair and does, discriminatory, penalise the social tenant more than the private tenant.
  • Hence when IDS or any other politician says the bedroom tax for social tenants is just the same as LHA is for the private tenant and thereby fair and equitable, they are being knowingly disingenuous and telling a huge lie.
  • …reveals the bedroom tax guidance on the decision-making process is ill-considered and irrational
  • …exposed the deficiencies and I would argue irrationality of the bedroom tax decision-making process
  • …a property is not the same as the number of bedrooms each property contains
  • …exposes the irrationality of the bedroom tax policy.  And…
  • It also shows very clearly that a property is not the same as the number of bedrooms it holds and presents a very strong formal appeal ground to all 660,000 bedroom tax affected tenants

Janet’s no-brainer of a straightforward case exposes the bedroom tax and its decision-making process for what it is, illogical, unfair, ill-considered, ill thought through, riddled with rhetorical spin that it is fair and equitable, a dog’s breakfast, a pig’s ear and a whole host of other phrases you care to use.  Yet Janet’s simple case in revealing this provides every single one of the 660,000 with some powerful and legitimate formal grounds of appeal.

Yes that means every one of the 660,000 bedroom tax affected tenants should appeal and has just cause to do so. That does give hope.

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3 thoughts on “The Janet Bell case – How to challenge the bedroom tax and win

  1. So how does someone ask THEIR Landlords to change their tenancy?

    “As usual this comes down to a simple solution and involved my asking LMH on behalf of Janet to state the vertical lift did make the 3rd bedroom a former bedroom and to copy that letter to the council and to Janet. In that letter I also argued that the council could not and should not reduce the HB level from a 3 bed to a 2 bed and also argued having an in essence 2 bed property with a 3 bed rent level would not put LMH in any trouble with the housing regulator.”

    I know “just asking” in a letter won’t get far with my HA given the way they have behaved on other matters?

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