Bedroom Tax – Liverpool City Council dirty tricks campaign – the FOI bullshit tactic
LCC is deliberately engaging in a dirty tricks campaign aimed at dissuading the tenant from appealing LCC’s decision to impose the bedroom tax.
The latest dirty trick is to treat tenant requests for further information as if they were Freedom of Information requests or FOI. Tenants submitted a standard or template letter I drafted which contains 6 questions asking for more information on HOW the Council took the bedroom tax decisions. In simple terms the 6 questions asking for more information seek an explanation.
Here is the reverse of a HB award notice from Liverpool.
As you can see clearly this is a document from LCC which tells the tenant to ask for an explanation or more information which is the absolute right of the tenant that starts the appeal process. THIS IS NOT AN FOI REQUEST FROM THE TENANT
Here is how Liverpool responded with the FOI bull response (the tenant had written on original before scanning hence judicious use of anonymising)
It states I refer to your request WHICH HAS BEEN PROCESSED IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000. This was merely a letter asking for information by way of explanation that LCC HAS DECIDED TO VIEW INCREDULOUSLY AS A FOI REQUEST –
In short a dirty trick!!!
As you can see this has adopted the 6 original questions – all reasonable – from the standard template letter asking for explanation by way of more information
1. The tenant needs this information in order to launch a formal appeal that needs to be based on the facts of the case and not just assumptions on HOW the Council took the decision.
2. If a tenant lodges an appeal to the court (tribunal) based on assumption and not on fact the tribunal would rightly give such an appeal short shrift.
3. The tenant needs the very reasonable information the 6 questions ask of the Council to make a reliable and factual appeal and;
4. Only the Council has that information.
Yet Liverpool in treating this as an FOI request is seeking to deny giving this necessary information to the tenant as any appeal will cost the Council money.
THIS IS NOT AN FOI REQUEST FROM THE TENANT
Then they are sending the tenant off on a wild goose chase by advising them to go to the Information Commissioner’s Office if they want to challenge LCC’s (unnecessary) FOI position.
YET THIS IS NOT AN FOI REQUEST FROM THE TENANT
What is really going on here is that Liverpool City Council is seeking to reduce the number of appeals by their range of dirty tricks all aimed at making any formal appeal from tenants be deemed as out-of-time appeals. Then hoping the tribunal rules such appeals are out-of-time without a valid reason and so dismissed and the appeal ended there and then. The tribunal can decide to hear an out-of-time appeal if the reason for it being out-of-time is valid.
Liverpool City Council in taking an eternity to respond to requests for more information, in giving out false information and steering tenants off on a wild goose chase by choosing to see the request for more information as an FOI request is DELIBERATELY trying to make as many appeals as possible being out of time.
In front of me are 6 cases from 6 different tenants and in each one:
a) The original decision notice from LCC is dated 9th April 2013 (Tuesday)
b) The tenants received these on either Friday 12th April or Saturday 13th April
c) The standard letters with the 6 questions are dated 16th April (Tuesday) and each one has a receipt from the One Stop Shops in Liverpool where they were hand-delivered
d) The sole response in each case is the FOI charade letter dated 8 May 2013 and received 10th May 2013.
What we see here at (a) is the original decision notice dated 9th April 2013 and the first and only response from LCC being at (d) above dated 7th May and received 10th May.
Hence the inadequate yet deliberate (FOI bullshit) response from Liverpool received 10th May 2013 is ONE MONTH AND ONE DAY after the date on the original notice!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
LCC has not only attempted not to give the tenant the explanation sought it has designed a standard response to the standard letters yet has taken 22 days to date and send that response from receipt of the six questions on 16th April 2013 at (c) to at (d) the woeful response dated 78th May and received 10th May 2013.
As I state clearly and reasonably above the tenant needs reasonable information that is reasonably requested to make a formal appeal. Yet Liverpool City Council by hook and by crook is denying them that reasonable and necessary information to do that.
I am advising all the hundreds if not thousands of tenants in Liverpool who this week got a copy of this bullshit FOI response from LCC to write back immediately and state in their own words that :-
(i) Your letter asking for more information was NOT a FOI request as LCC has chosen to outrageously interpret it to be;
(ii) Your letter was a request for more information and explanation of how LCC came to the original decision as you know to be your right as LCC state this on their HB decision notices;
(iii) You still require the information as originally requested;
(iv) The information you requested is absolutely necessary to the formal appeal;
(v) Asking for that reasonable information requested you consider also reasonably as the start of the appeal process.
(vi) That LCC did not respond to the date when appeals have to be made by and you consider your appeal to start from the date you requested the explanation of how they decided the bedroom tax imposition
(vii) Remind them as you previously stated that you will submit the formal appeal within 21 days of receipt of the reasonable information you requested and now have to ask for again
The original standard letter with the 6 very reasonable questions was submitted by the tenant in good faith and in its entirety was perfectly reasonable. Nobody can go to a court or tribunal with arguments based on assumption; they need to be based on fact, yet Liverpool City Council seeking to deny that necessary information to the tenant. This is outrageous and unfortunately only one of the many underhand dirty tricks that LCC is operating.
The tenant by putting the above in writing and to LCC will have a much stronger chance of their case being heard if the tribunal deem it to be out-of-time.
Tenants may also wish to contact a whole host of bodies and agencies additional to this such as councillors, MPs, MEPs, Local Government Ombudsman and indeed directly to Eric Pickles as the Secretary of State for Local Government and IDS at DWP (HB issues) and Chris Grayling at the Ministry of Justice (Tribunal issues).
All of these 3 Tory MPs will be delighted to hear of the disgraceful and outrageous conduct and dirty tricks campaign of a Labour run council!
This demonstrates why the bedroom tax appeal is not just a political ‘cause’ of the ‘left’ (though including the Labour Party under any part of ‘left’ is highly debateable!)
The bedroom tax is an issue of what is right and just and challenge to it originated rightly in community and grassroots groups long before the Johnny-Come-Lately’s such as the Labour Party attempted to hijack the agenda. It is also being arranged and expanded and perpetuated by the ordinary person in communities and grassroots groups too. These do include many ‘left-wing’ groups and many ‘activists’ and such terminology is both pejorative and used by government to label and smear this very significant public groundswell and action. That is bloody offensive too!
The bedroom tax attacks some of the most vulnerable and impoverished people in the country who by definition are the stereotypical ‘easy target.’ The same ‘easy target’ nobody ever thought would stand up and fight back yet are doing so in huge numbers and more power to them.
As more and more of the welfare reforms come into force such as the benefit cap in July and Universal Credit in October and all the other cuts of this austerity period come to light (and of course the in effect privatisation of the NHS) then such grassroots campaigns and groups will get bigger and stronger and more and more powerful. The bedroom tax – as just one single issue – has galvanised and mobilised the dormant powerhouse that is the ordinary person that usually doesn’t give a toss about Politics. Yet it is unlike the Poll Tax single issue which quickly saw mass grassroots movement wither away quickly. There are so many more and more pernicious welfare reforms to come this year alone. Very interesting times ahead!!
When Councils such as Liverpool who have come out with public statements such as we don’t like the bedroom tax and it has been imposed on us by central government – both valid points – then embark on an outrageous dirty tricks campaign such as this FOI bullshit response, they deserve to be pilloried and named and shamed. This FOI bullshit tactic is one of many tactics they have and are employing and I will update the reader in numerous posts over the next week or so of each of them in turn.
As I have been writing about for many months now the only people with the power to get rid of the bedroom tax are the tenant and grassroots and communities who unite together. Just this weekend I witnessed an interesting development of grassroots organisations coming together and I will update the reader on that soon too.
Anyone see the huge irony of the ‘lowly’ tenant reporting Labour-run LCC to three of the biggest Tory demons in government in Pickles, Grayling and IDS?
I wonder if the housing professional many of whom read my blogs have thought that the number of tenants in these embryonic anti bedroom tax groups far outnumber the number of members of the CIH and NHF combined! That is not irony however; it is just one of the reasons why I have been saying that the social landlords will get their “comeuppance” when payment of Housing Benefit goes direct to the tenant from October this year.
Perhaps the financial buffoons who are dictating housing management policy at the moment by sending letters out threatening eviction over miniscule arrears may wish to consider that, just as Liverpool City Councillors will need to reflect on what their council is doing in this dirty tricks campaign!
UPDATE Tuesday 14th May
Cllr Paul Brant has responded to this in a comment below which I now include here and I respond to his comments in bold text
He writes: –
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 blog 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.
The issue is not whether there is a charge, the issue is whether LDL staff state to members of the public there was a charge. I have since been told of two further cases, one I whom I have spoken with and again they confirm the same wording as the previous two cases
2. Having received clarification, I tweeted a response making this clear.
I have previously commented on this tweet and make no further comment on it here as 140 characters is a limitation yet the tweet was clearly ambiguous and gave (perhaps) the wrong or at least not the impression I imagine Cllr Brant wanted to give.
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.
Why does the Council need details of the individuals? By that I mean under what procedures would the Council deal with this issue? Would this be a contractual dispute between LCC and LDL? Would LCC treat this as a formal (and internalised) complaint? I have put these points of procedure and how the Council would deal with this issue to Cllr Louise Baldock who raised the same point on the previous blog and as yet there has been no response.
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.
This conveniently misses out a stage in the appeal process and whether LCC HB department agree with appeal or not. But yet again the issue is not whether there is a charge, we are all agreed on that, the issue is that LDL counter staff have told tenants that there is a charge and as such deterred tenants from appealing the decision and from even seeking further information fr which they also said a charge applied.
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.
The naivety and incredulity of this response I find staggering. LCC decided to view the request for further information and explanation of how they took the bedroom tax HB decision as a FOI request when LCC’s own benefit form states the claimant (the tenant) can ask for such explanation. Treating the simple request for more information and explanation – sometimes called a statement of reasons – as a FOI request is nothing more than a deterrence tactic from LCC. It is a disgraceful tactic all aimed at saving money to the Council and letting vulnerable tenants suffer.
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.
Yet there is a significant cost of being asked to do a statement of reasons (more information or explanation) and / or review and re-assessment for the Council as Cllr Brant knows well and is overtly avoiding in this incredulous answer. There is also a significant cost to the Council of preparing for such an appeal at the Tribunal and the cost of a representing officer at that appeal Tribunal.
Cllr Brant is also aware that I have estimated that cost to the Council before and that estimate was £1500 per case. This was in my open letter to Mayor Joe Anderson here which I had the professional courtesy to email 24 hours ahead to Cllr Paul Brant before I released this on my blog. So to infer there is cost neutral to the Council is staggering in its incredulity!
All HB decisions also need to take account of legislation as well as (HB) regulations and I would ask Cllr Brant to state where in any guidance issued on the bedroom tax it says there is no definition of a bedroom. A very relevant fact when the bedroom tax can only be imposed on a bedroom. The guidance at paragraph 12 merely says that the government will not legislate for a future definition and cleverly does not say that there is a definition of what cannot be a bedroom already in legislation.
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.
This is, to use language Cllr Brant is familiar with, a legal fiction. What the tenant is appealing is NOT the number of bedrooms the landlord said the property has, the tenant is appealing the fact that the Council merely took the landlords word on this in the Council making the decision. That is an entirely different matter. Perhaps Cllr Brant would care to give a legal view on the conflicted and vested interest a social landlord has in saying each property has as many bedrooms as possible
Information provided to the Council by the applicant? At what time was this information provided by the tenant (the claimant) is a significant legal point as Cllr Brant can check with reference to Prout –v- Hammer 1924 which is still used today in housing law and states a decision needs to be based on facts at the time of the decision and NOT at any other time. So was this tenant-provided information at the last HB claim or when the tenant signed the original tenancy 30 years ago? Whichever one it is would also be contrary to the highly prescriptive A4 of 2012 HB circular which forms the official guidance on the bedroom tax decision too.
However the most significant issue here is that LCC is sending the tenant off on a wild goose chase by telling them to go to the landlord. I restate the issue is between the claimant (the tenant) and the decision-maker (the Council acting as the agent of DWP). The landlord is a mere third party to the original decision and to any review or reconsideration of the original decision. Further to that point the guidance issued to LCC and all other Councils states unambiguously that the landlords were under no obligation whatsoever to provide any information to the Councils (see paragraph 20)
The advice LCC has given to steer tenants away from a review or appeal by sending them to the landlords is misinformation and done to save LCC the cost of an explanation, a reconsideration and of appeal.
8. There is more information available at http://www.dalestreetnews.com/2013/05/07/advice-on-housing-benefit-changes/
Yes this link is precisely where LCC sends tenant claimants off on a wild goose chase with this misinformation…as Cllr Brant would know if he had bothered to actually read the blog post above!
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.
Actions speak louder than words springs to my mind and I make no apologies if that is taken as flippant or trite. It simply and accurately reflects the reality.
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.
Cllr Paul Brant
I welcome a civilised debate on the many issues above and based on the facts too and that is why my comments on the misinformation – sending tenants back to landlords – is of huge significance. I have explained why this is wrong and why it is misdirection and why it is a legal fiction or vice. In some ways because this has come direct from LCC whereas the allegations against counter staff at One Stop Shops is against LDL employees who are merely partners of the Council.
That misdirection and misinformation does deter tenants from asking for a review or an appeal as LCC is saying all grounds concerning a bedroom should go back to the landlord at first instance. That is frankly a disgrace and is denying due process to the social tenant and also runs a huge risk of their subsequent appeals being determined as out-of-time. In these circumstances the Council saves money on review and appeal and that makes this misdirection all the more serious. The Council makes financial gain from this misdirection and misinformation which it has put out by its own admitted hand!
What that also necessitates is for this matter not to be discussed on my blog, but raised and transparently considered as a matter of urgency under a far more formal framework of enquiry. Cllr Brant needs to address that point as well as what framework the Councils wishes to investigate the allegations I raised in a previous posy against the OSS counter staff.