***** * 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
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:
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:
On 6th May Councillor Paul Brant issued the following on Twitter:
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 Council. How 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!