The bedroom Tax and Liverpool – WTF is going on!!!

**********************************

***** * UPDATED 8TH MAY 4PM  ******

**********************************

Last week I asked Liverpool City Council to do a number of things in response to allegations I had received first-hand that 2 tenants were dissuaded from appealing the bedroom tax decision by being told there was a charge for this service.  I reproduce the short blog post below and then include an update from Liverpool City Council which you will see is nothing short of a disgrace as it is yet another device from LCC to dissuade tenants from appealing the bedroom tax which is their absolute legal right.  The fact any such appeals cost LCC money is clearly an issue in this disgraceful behaviour by LCC

Original post

Liverpool Direct is a private company and part of BT that runs many customer services for Liverpool City Council – see here for the full range of what they do for the Council in the public/private partnership. One such service is running and staffing the One Stop Shop (OSS) where tenants go to appeal the bedroom tax or ask for more information.

So imagine being told it will cost you, the tenant,  between £10 and £15 to appeal the bedroom tax decision by Liverpool Direct staff and the staff there go on to tell you this is necessary as they have to employ more staff to cope with this extra workload!

Yet that is what happened yesterday to at least two individual tenants that I have spoken with today. One tenant was told this by a female Liverpool Direct worker and the other by a male, both at the OSS in Walton Road in Liverpool and so clearly this is some form of policy and policy I would strongly suggest is unlawful and outrageous.

Rather than vent my spleen here with invective about how outrageous and unlawful this is I choose to comment on what now needs to be done.

Liverpool City Council need to investigate these events as a matter or urgency as well as other measures the OSS have been telling tenants and there are lots of other potentially unlawful matters which they have been saying to deter tenants from appealing and generally giving out extremely dodgy purported ‘advice’ on the bedroom tax and the tenant right to appeal.

There is clear evidence that Liverpool Direct are having to employ more staff to cope with the demand and are trying to find ways of paying for that increased workload and also deterring the tenant from appealing or even asking for more information.

Liverpool City Council need:

  • To come out publicly by way of a Public Notice to say there is no charge to the tenant in asking for more information on how the bedroom tax decision was made
  • To say there is no charge for submitting an appeal in the same Public Notice
  • They also need to state publicly that they are extending the appeal deadline by 14 days from this public notice so as to ensure no tenant that has been dissuaded from appealing by these unlawful actions is discriminated against.
  • To launch a full investigation into this matter with Liverpool Direct staff and management
  • Inform the local tribunals service of this matter with regard to an out-of-time appeal and how these should be considered in light of these matters

In terms of Housing Benefit all Councils act as agents of central government and I don’t see any way they can charge for such a service.  While local councils may have powers to charge for certain services they cannot charge for giving information or accepting information for a national welfare benefit – this is akin to the jobcentre charging you an admin fee to sign on the dole! And I may have just given IDS a new policy idea there!

I do not need to make a case for how outrageous this is or how unlawful and the temptation to splatter this post with the ‘f’ word is strong but I will resist. Instead, Liverpool City Council must act and act swiftly and in the manner I state above.

Some general points

1.  Having spoken with the tenants involved this is not some made up story to seek to extend appeal deadlines or any other reason, or is it any form of conspiracy theory or errant rumour such as Muslims are allowed a spare room as its classed as a praying room and not a bedroom which gets repeated as alleged ‘fact’ across social media sites. There is no collusion in their stories in any way and other things that have been said to deter asking for more information or appealing from the same OSS I have withheld here. There is a clear case and strong evidence of Liverpool Direct seeking to deter appeals and deter costs of legitimate tenants requests for more information or appeals.  Who is giving this unlawful direction to counter staff at the OSS I do not know yet it is self-evident this is happening and this is not a case of a rogue employee acting alone.

2. There is strong evidence elsewhere across the country of other Councils also using deterrent tactics to avoid public purse costs of which telling tenants if they dispute the number of bedrooms in a property they must take that up with the landlord first before appealing is a major and typical example. Landlords are a third-party and the bedroom tax decision and any appeals as to that are absolutely between the tenant claimant and the decision-making body, the Council and nothing at all to do with landlords.

3. Councils are running scared of the costs involved to them and are arguing it is wrong they should be inundated when this is central government policy.  Yet they forget it is they who took the bedroom tax decisions on the basis of ease of cost and ease of administration and not in the manner of getting the original decision right in the first place..  That is no excuse to overtly and deliberately misinform the tenant claimant now of which there is substantial evidence.  The local councils are complicit in the bedroom tax decision-making farce at a corporate level despite my sympathy for the poor HB officer having to make these life-changing decisions based on a lack of definition and fact and merely believing the word of the landlords who have a conflict of interest.

4. If council HB staff make arbitrary decisions based on a lack of formal or even working policy given to them then Councils deserve to have to pay the resulting cost of an unprecedented level of requests for more information and appeals. Such Councils reap what they sow.

In summary, any Council overtly and knowingly deterring the tenant from appealing by giving out false advice or outrageously attempting to charge for that is unlawful and frankly a disgrace.  Just as Cornwall Council came out last week and corrected their claim that the bedroom tax is a non-appealable decision within 24 hours, then Liverpool City Council needs to do the same and do much more than say sorry!

UPDATE – Wednesday 8th May 2013

On 2nd May I sent a copy of the original post to Councillor Paul Brant, Deputy Mayor of Liverpool City Council and responsible for this area of Council activities.

On 3rd May a comment from Cllr Louise Baldock appeared under the original post which said:

Louise Baldock May 3, 2013 at 9:03 pm Edit Reply

I have just picked this up, unfortunately nobody raised it directly with me. I have sent a link to the Deputy Mayor who is responsible for Revs and Bens service. Cheers, Louise

To which I replied also in the comments that this was sent to Cllr Paul Brant the day before and that is here:

Joe Halewood HSM ‏@SpeyeJoe2 May

@CllrPaulBrant Any comment on the unlawful #bedroomtax practices going on in Liverpool? http://wp.me/p1vuvL-CH  You need to act on this !

On 6th May Councillor Paul Brant issued the following on Twitter:

Cllr Paul Brant ‏@CllrPaulBrant6 May

@SkemFurey @lpoolcouncil @LiverpoolDirect @SpeyeJoe Story is wrong. There is no charge to appeal. Can author send details of 2 individuals?

Clearly Cllr Brant, himself a barrister, apparently does not see how such a tweet can be seen as him acting as judge,jury and executioner in denying  these events took place without any investigation of them by the Council.  Yet these are very serious charges and fully warrant an investigation and not a pre-judged denial in the first instance!

On 7th May (purportedly) Liverpool City Council released a statement through their communications team which puts out information as “Dale Street News” – Yet as you can see by the comments below this article from Cllr Louise Baldock it was released on 8th May and so some 6 days after I asked them to release a statement within 24 hours as Cornwall Council had done the previous week.  A very tardy response indeed despite the bank holiday weekend.

In that statement Cllr Paul Brant does indeed state there is no charge for a bedroom tax appeal:

Deputy Mayor and Cabinet member for Finance, Councillor Paul Brant, said: “We have been approached by many people who are adversely affected by the changes to housing benefit.

“We are working closely with social landlords to help and support tenants. There is no charge for appeals, or the reassessment of cases.

So despite being 6 days after the fact LCC does confirm there is no charge yet goes on to say in a disgraceful attempt to deter tenants from appealing and indeed timing them out of appeal:

“We would advise people who believe the assessment on the number of bedrooms in their property is incorrect to contact their landlord in the first instance, as the landlord provides this information to the Council.”

What an absolute disgrace!

LCC is saying that the claimant (the tenant) should go to a third-party (the landlord) before appealing the HB bedroom tax decision taken by the decision-maker (the council)

The HB decision like any benefit decision is between two parties and in this case the council and the tenant and NOBODY ELSE.  The HB appeal is between the tenant and the council and NOBODY ELSE too: Yet LCC is advising and telling tenants they must go to their landlord (a third-party) first if they disagree on the number of bedrooms.  That is an absolute disgrace and I maintain an unlawful response and unlawful advice from the Council.

The Council as part of the bedroom tax decision had to make two decisions.  They had to decide (a) what a bedroom constitutes or is, and (b) decide how many bedrooms each property has.  Even if the Council simply believed the word of the landlords (a third-party with a vested interest) the Council still decide to believe the landlord.  

What the tenant is appealing against is the Council decision to believe the landlord and NOT what the landlord told the CouncilHow a barrister fails to see that position beggars belief!

Instead we see Cllr Paul Brant perhaps with his other two hats on – deputy mayor of the Council and Chair of the board of Riverside ECHG a large social landlord – seeking to steer the tenant away from appealing.  That is a disgrace and that advice that Liverpool City Council has put out needs to be rescinded immediately.

All Councils act as agents of central government (DWP) in making a HB decision such as the bedroom tax and they and THEY ALONE are responsible for coming to a correct and reasonable decision.  So when they merely believe the word of a third-party with a vested interest, in his case the landlord, that is an unreasonable position to take and produces an unreliable decision.

Liverpool City Council now compound that error with a disgraceful position in advising the tenant to go to a third-party if their appeal concerns the number of bedrooms in a property – a decision that the Council took and not made by the landlord.  It is the decision of the Council to believe the landlords word or opinion on how many bedrooms a property has that is being appealed and not the landlords view and these are two entirely different matters – as even a GCSE level law student would comprehend let alone a barrister!

When you further factor in to this that the landlord was not under any obligation whatsoever to provide any data to the Council in the bedroom tax decision-making process then the decision of the COUNCIL to merely believe the vested interest of the third-party landlord was itself a disgrace, let alone compounding it with this errant sleight of hand in steering the tenant away from appealing this original disgraceful decision.

Then when you look at Cllr Paul Brant’s tweet in which he failed to investigate the matter of LDL allegedly asking tenants to pay for appealing by saying this never happened you see a consistent picture of the Council seeking to dissuade tenants from appealing as it costs the Council money!

And finally when you factor in that this same thing happened yesterday to another tenant in another Liverpool City Council One-Stop-Shop, this time in Speke which is the other side of the city then the assertions of Cllr Paul Brant and Liverpool City Council who say these events never happened without investigating them starts to smell very badly indeed!

I have just spoken with this other lady and I asked her to describe what happened in her own words.  She told me she handed in the standard letter with 6 questions I had drafted asking for more information on how the Council took the decision to be told “I hope you know there maybe a charge of £10 for this”

She said this is an even tone without embellishment and without any prompting from myself.  Like the previous two tenants I originally reported above I mentioned that the media would be interested in this and the Council and all 3 have agreed they will speak to the media and the Council over this.  While I am sure that Liverpool City Council will want to portray this as some form of conspiracy theory on my part I and these 3 tenants are all willing to put up and wont be shut up on this issue which is one of grave concern and worthy of investigation.

On a wider point the fact that Liverpool is now one of many Councils to say to the tenant go back and ask your landlord over how many bedrooms your property has is far greater evidence of collusion by Councils than from these three tenants.  I say to all such Councils that the tenant is appealing against YOUR DECISION to simple believe the landlords word on the number of bedrooms and has a legitimate right to do so without going through their landlord.  Not only is this a legitimate grounds of appeal the fact that the Councils are colluding to give out such errant and misleading advice is also a strong legitimate ground of appeal too.

By all means Councils are free to advise tenants to make a complaint against their landlord for saying their property has more bedrooms than they believe but that is a  wholly separate matter to legitimately appeal against how the Council took the bedroom tax decision in merely taking the vested interested social landlords word on how many bedrooms a property has.

Perhaps while these Councils are at it they could even advise the tenant could seek to take legal action against their landlord for telling the Council anything at all and especially as this has had an adverse affect on the tenant with the bedroom tax being imposed because of it!

So when are Liverpool City Council going to launch an investigation into this matter? Or do you think reader they will still try to get away with not investigating this matter?  I, of course, will keep you posted!

Advertisements

31 thoughts on “The bedroom Tax and Liverpool – WTF is going on!!!

  1. Right, I have made the decision not to pay the Council Tax. If my Council disagrees with that decision, they do have the right of appeal. Appeals cost £1000.

  2. Just phoned liverpool council benefits section, woman on phone refused to give me her name, she told me no-one can appeal BT as its from the government, so I said what about if info they are given is wrong, she told me nothing to do with them between tenant and HA. I kept pushing her about the charges it is being said were being asked for, she told me she has never heard of such a thing and they would not do this. When I said it had happened she said any complaint must be in writing to them for she does not believe this happened and will do nothing about it unless they have proof but she implied I was a liar and making this up.

  3. I have received a letter from Barnet council staing again: In relation to bedroom tax as previously advised, this is a government ruling and therefore you cannot appeal against this decision made by the government.

  4. I am so confused by all this. I appealed against by housing benefit descision as opposed to the bedroom tax. Is there where the confusion lies. There is no right to appeal against the bedroom tax only the housing benefit decision. Of course the local authorities have legal departments to hand but we the people who are effected by all this now have no recourse to legal help. Local authorities are only going to answer specific questions not give you the correct information if it ultimately works against them.

  5. this is an Absolute disgrace,
    come on Mayor Anderson get your finger out an get it sorted.
    I am still waiting for a reply to my 2nd letter for more information from Wirral Council, I’d like to see them asking me to pay to appeal.
    “NO BLOODY WAY”

  6. It would seem that councils across the country are using different methods when dealing with appeals. Surely they should all be using the same standards. I have have just had a letter from Bolton Council and they have passed my appeal to the appeals officer for submission to the Tribunal Service.

  7. you have a legal right to appeal, you have no legal right to pay their staff, that is their job and legally they can NOT refuse your appeal based on lack of funds, they are breaking law if they claim policy is allowing to do that, refuse to pay the fee and remind them that law states you can appeal and they can not refuse your appeal as the fee is noty a legal requiremnt, even then it has to go through many many legal remits and be approved in law that the fees acan be applied, they talking twaddle if they refuse to deal with your appeal then when it come to eviction threats they have no legal leg to stand on as they refuse to cmply with law to allow your appeal to go a head, remeber all policy must comply with law and so far their policy is not complying with law Yes I am dyslexic but i know they are breaking laws, also the fees for appeals were not in your contract at time of signing too so remeind them of that too

  8. I have asked for my DHP refusal to be looked at again.
    And the letter I received in reply is that I have enough income to pay both the HB shortfall and my council tax. BECAUSE they are using my DLA as income!!

    @Joe, do you have ANY information about this please?
    Surely, this is unlawful??
    It is awarded for care and mobility. NOT for paying BT and CT!!

    They ALSO in the same letter have answered some questions on my appeal questions (BT).
    So, I’m not getting anywhere with the process!!

    I’m getting so confused by it all, I feel like giving up!! I have mental health issues and am finding it hard to absorb all the information and what I need to write to them next.

  9. Hang in there Debbie, I’m not sure where we stand legally on the DLA as income issue, I guess it’s all part of the strategy to confuse people into paying, hopefully this issue will become relevant the further we get into this nonsense. I’m in similar situation, living on DLA, are there any CAB offices left anywhere, they may advise you ? A local (free) law centre ?
    Whatever, don’t be rushed into making decisions, they hope to make us panic and just pay up, I say SOD OFF!!!

  10. I have just picked this up, unfortunately nobody raised it directly with me. I have sent a link to the Deputy Mayor who is responsible for Revs and Bens service. Cheers, Louise

  11. So the Chair of the LCC Finance and Resources Select Committee and Vice Chair of Venture Housing Association has sent a link the Deputy Mayor and Chair of Riverside Group. Wonderful just wonderful!

  12. This is the council’s response. http://www.dalestreetnews.com/2013/05/07/advice-on-housing-benefit-changes/ If you have actual details of the people who have said they have been given this advice then I ask, once again, that you send them to me so that we can have their cases investigated properly – and find out what exactly they were told and by whom etc.
    Otherwise I consider this to be hearsay. I am also a bit cross that my comment appears to have been removed from earlier today – unless I didnt post it properly.

    1. Louise

      No comments were removed by me and unless my account has been hacked I am the only person with access to it.

      I am surprised that you simply see this as a matter of alleged hearsay and the Council does not see the need to investigate this matter. That position exacerbates the lack of public confidence in the Council that flows from the original decisions. However I am fully aware that this is not your decision and comes firmly under the ambit of others and comments here are intended for the Council in a corporate sense and not individually.

      I am currently deciding on how I wish to proceed with this and I suggest the Council does the same. Presumably there is a dispute resolution clause in the contract between LDL and LCC which would be appropriate as this is a standard contract clause. Perhaps the LGO would be another route and given the urgency as tenants have been dissuaded form appealing by now 3 separate counts this can go direct to LGO and not have to exhaust LCCs complaint procedures. How does LCC wish this to proceed? Perhaps internalise the matter through LCC complaint procedures? Does LCC have a provision in its complaint policy to defer a tenants right of appeal against a benefit decision? If so please let me know.

      The truly offensive ‘hearsay’ comments or put up or shut up and we will deal this matter internally is simply not enough or acceptable and the three tenants involved are willing to make statements but not be railroaded in some pretence of an internal investigation that can be hushed up or ‘lets take a lesson learned approach’ or some similar epithet.

      As for lack of public confidence why are LCC adding to this by overtly misleading tenants in advising them to go to their landlords (yet another deterrent tactic the Council is employing and now admitting) over YOUR decision.

      Yet the Council wish to see this as some form of mischief and belittle the situation? That is offensive! This matter is a lot more serious than the Council is willing to admit. It is time they looked at this correctly rather than playing games in trying to belittle the matter

  13. From the dalestreetnews link – “We would advise people who believe the assessment on the number of bedrooms in their property is incorrect to contact their landlord in the first instance, as the landlord provides this information to the Council.” Erm excuse me but this is the tenants claim, not the landlord’s and the landlord has a vested interest. Ask the tenant! Go out and assess the house but don’t tell us to take it up with the landlord! How many foster parents & armed forces are not counted because LCC sent out award letters too soon? My award is definitely wrong!

  14. LCC MUST investigate. How can you have any faith in city leaders if they don’t? I’ve met many people whose awards are definitely wrong but are still getting told by HA they must pay. Guess who gave the wrong information? If HA had not complied with the request for information, all councils would have had to assess all properties or, at the very least, contact the claimant – the tenant. I personally am angry that my claim has been determined by info from my landlord. I never gave the council permission to discuss my claim with them because I never got the chance to make a claim. Councils are very remiss, they should have sent out renewal claim forms, they could have saved a lot of face and maybe hardly any of us would have been able to appeal. Then again, I’m just a mum who juggles the family finances so it’s all really simple to me. We balance the books, budget, make savings and fill in forms correctly and do not receive a massive salary – can I have a job please?

  15. I am still waiting for a reply to my request for further information from LCC ( over two weeks now ) I was also told by the assistant when I handed in my form at the speke one stop shop that my dispute is with my landlord and not the council I told him “since when did my landlord start paying my HB and why was I not notified directly by them instead of LCC” obviously he had no answer for me except to say its not a bedroom tax its an under occupancy penalty I politely asked him to send my letter and issue my receipt unbelievable!

  16. I wonder if the problem of the charges is because the people in the OSS’s don’t realise (or don’t understand, weren’t trained properly, are the lowest paid contracted out service personnel who are just talking heads working from a script that can’t deal with anything outside its normal remit (can you tell that I believe contracting out is the worst thing ever invented, a money making scam for middleware)) that the questions are related to an appeal (no charge) and instead wrongly think they are a FOI (£10 sounds like a standard charge rate) request.

  17. Hi Joe I recieved a letter from LCC response to my letter requesting info on BT policies etc. I have sent you an e-mail with full details (you wont believe the contents) and would be grateful for any advice/info as to what I should do next. Thanks karen

    1. There is a lot more to come on the deterrent and other offensive tactics that LCC have employed and are still engaging in. I have collected a lot more information in the past 24 hours including yet more examples of tenants who have been told the same thing – the £10 – £15 cost issue – and a whole host of other tactics LCC using to dissuade tenants from appealing. Once I have gathered these issues (and note they have been confirmed too in mist cases) I will reveal all..and to a much wider audience

  18. Dear All

    Thank you for your comments posted above. A few points which might assist.

    1. The original complaint was ‘So imagine being told it will cost you, the tenant, between £10 and £15 to appeal the bedroom tax decision by Liverpool Direct staff’. This was communicated to me by email dated 2nd May as set out above. I am not familiar with this site, nor was i aware that the author of this blogg was the author of the email. I enquired of LDL whether there was any charge for an appeal as alleged. I was told categorically that there was not.

    2. Having received clarification, I tweeted a response making this clear.

    3. I have asked for details of the individuals concerned from the author, so that an enquiry could be carried out into the particular circumstances of their interaction with LDL – and if they were given erroneous advice it could be corrected. These details have not been provided. If they are forwarded I will ensure their position is looked into.

    4. In fact, any appeal of the decision is to the social security appeal tribunal, and there is no charge of such an appeal. There is also no charge for a ‘review’ (ie a request for the Council to look again at its Housing Benefit decision). I reiterate, there is not, and never has been any charge to appeal a Housing Benefit assessment.

    5. In a post made yesterday, the author of the blogg has referred to a pro-forma set of questions being treated as a freedom of information request by the City. The issue of freedom of information requests is covered by Acts of Parliament and an independent Information Commisioner. This will be looked into by me tomorrow, however again if the details of the individuals concerned could be passed on it will help.

    6. The Council processes Housing Benefit on behalf of the Government, there is no cost or saving to the Council arising from the assessment of each Housing Benefit application. The Government pays the Housing Benefit bill, although the assessment of each application must be carried out in accordance with the statutory regulations.

    7. The Council makes the assessment using information provided to it by the applicant and and the landlord. In some cases landlords have changed the number of bedrooms the ascribe to each property – this information then led to a reduction in rent charged on the property (which then matched the HB assessment). For this reason it is good advice for a tenant to contact their landlord if they believe that their landlord has submitted an incorrect number of bedrooms. The decision is one for the Council, however if the landlord amends the information regarding the number of bedrooms that is likely to have an effect on the calculation.

    8. There is more information available at http://www.dalestreetnews.com/2013/05/07/advice-on-housing-benefit-changes/

    9. If an appeal to a social security appeal tribunal is successful then the benefit levels will automatically be revised.

    Liverpool City Council, and the Labour Party locally, and myself personally believe that the governments ‘Bedroom Tax’ is unfair, unworkable, inefficient and we believe it is a socially devisive and destructive policy. We remain opposed to it, and would like to see it repealed immediately.

    It rightly remains the right of anyone to blog or write on issues of concern, and I welcome informed civilised debate based on facts regarding these important issues.

    If any individual wishes to come to my surgery to discuss their individual situation then I would also be more than happy to try and assist.

    Finally, I’m hoping to post this on the site, if it has appeared then I have been successful, otherwise I will try and find another way of making it public. I will also try and publish it on the entry of the blog from 12th May 2013.

    Yours
    Cllr Paul Brant

Please leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s