Today I read about Leeds City Council re-designating 837 of its properties and that nearly a third of these – at most 279 properties – will escape the bedroom tax because of this.
In Leeds City Council area there are an estimated 14,984 properties affected by the bedroom tax this amounts to 1.6% of properties ‘escaping’ the bedroom tax and 98.4% still having to pay it. It is hardly earth-shattering when seen in that correct context is it?
Leeds City Council trying to win over the tenant with this is in reality a non-story when we look at the numbers and I would not be surprised if this re-designation is in difficult-to-let (DTL) properties alone and the Council like KHT and a few others before it have re-designated DTLs down in terms of bedroom number as the bedroom tax makes DTLs into ITLs – impossible to let properties.
Make no mistake and don’t be hoodwinked by these re-designations. They are simply landlords accepting a lower rental income by re-designating down rather than no income from keeping the status quo – In short a canny business decision and bugger all to do with helping the put-upon tenant as landlords want re-designation to be perceived.
I argued over 6 months ago that landlords would be better off financially be re-designating 3 bed properties as 2.9 bed ones as it takes so many out of the bedroom tax. The reduced income is less than the financial arrears risk. Professor Steve Wilcox has come out this week and said much the same.
Yet IF (a) what a bedroom is and (b) how many bedrooms a property has – the two key determinants of Councils imposing the bedroom tax and decsions THEY have to make before imposing it – is left to the social landlord then social landlords would re-designate every property. However, this would be seen as contrivance and in simple terms benefit fraud.
So are social landlords hoping that re-designating 1.6% in Leeds or under 4% in KHT’s case in Knowsley will not be viewed as contrivance and benefit fraud?
Surely benefit fraud is benefit fraud whether its 1.6% or 100%?
Of course it must be. Yet what this makes a total mockery of is Councils making the bedroom tax decision saying what a bedroom is and how many a property has is down to the landlord! That cannot be the case at all. I have put this across before by saying even if a Council chooses to merely accept the landlords word it is they – the Council – which has DECIDED to accept the landlords word on what is a bedroom and how many each property has. That MUST be the case as the Council IS the decision-maker in the bedroom tax decision and nobody else has the power to decide.
To allow a third-party – the social landlord – to define the number of bedrooms is tantamount to fraud and neglect of the Councils mandatory duties to assess and make the bedroom tax decision as the agent of the DWP – the role in which they operate for HB decisions such as the bedroom tax
Yet bizarrely, some councils have said defining these two necessary factors of what is a bedroom and how many falls outside their remit!!
Additionally how can it be that a Council merely accepts the view of the social landlord when (a) the social landlord has no obligation whatsoever to provide property or any other data to the Councils and (b) the social landlords have a known and vested interest in stating each property has as many bedrooms as possible?
The bedroom tax decision-making process is entirely irrational as the Councils as the agent of central government are paying out public purse monies to those it knows, the social landlords, have a vested financial interest to maximise that income from the government. Yet each Council as “guardians of the public purse” – a pithy vague saying they repeat at every turn – have gone along with this charade.
It may well be that in doing so the social landlords are committing an even greater benefit fraud in charging rent on properties and receiving Housing Benefit on alleged bedrooms that the landlord knows are not bedrooms but mere rooms. Last week I highlighted a case of an alleged ‘bedroom’ in Coventry of a social landlord that measured just 35 square feet and which the social landlord insisted was a bedroom. It measured just 4 feet 3 inches by 8 feet 2 inches.
Just think about that for a second. A single bed can only fit in one way. This means the width of the room (4 feet 3 inches) has to include the width of a single bed of 3 feet leaving 1 foot 3 inches. Yet the door which opens into the alleged bedroom would hit this single bed. The maximum 15 inch opening of the door is also reduced by the width of the door at 2 inches. So to access this alleged bedroom the (alleged) bedroom door can only open 13 inches which the tenant has to squeeze through to access. Could Eric Pickles for example gain access to a room through a 13 inch opening? I have just tried this myself and I can barely fit through a door opening of 13 inches. So perhaps we should rename the bedroom tax as the fat bastard tax instead!
In simple terms this alleged ‘bedroom’ could fit a single bed in, yet the tenant would not be able to get into the room to use the bed! Yet the social landlord and the Council say it is a bedroom and resolutely stand by that! Just what the hell is going on!
Now Coventry Council know as does every Council that a private sector landlord could not rent out such a room as a bedroom. In fact they would be taken to court and prosecuted by the Council if they did represent such a room as a bedroom as the recent case in Reigate shows. So Councils know that bedroom size is and always has been an issue in what constitutes a bedroom yet have chosen to ignore it in making the bedroom tax decisions. Now such Councils are ignoring the exact opposite and allowing social landlords to re-designate a bedroom as a mere room to avoid the bedroom tax.
It seems the social landlord can have its cake and eat it according to local Councils!
So have Councils acted as “guardians of the public purse” as agents of central government ? Or have Councils simply taken the lowest cost and easiest way out of checking whether a bedroom is a bedroom? Of course it is the latter and the bedroom tax decision-making process is a farce and entirely illogical and irrational.
Yet now – and after the bedroom tax decisions have been made by Councils – we see two landlords in Bristol City Council and Nottingham City Homes deciding that anything under 50 square feet cannot be a bedroom for bedroom tax purposes. So if these two social landlords can take that decision, which strangely is just one eclectic element of the 1985 Housing Act, then why can’t and shouldn’t all other social landlords?
Was it the government’s intention that we have a national policy (the bedroom tax) decided differently in different areas of the country? Of course not. Is it each Councils role as the agent of the DWP to decide what the government intended by this policy? Yes it was. So how can Bristol City Council (HB) and Nottingham City Council have got this so wrong? In fact how can all Councils have gotten this so wrong when they know as a corporate body – the Council – that they have powers to prosecute landlords who attempt to rent out a bedroom of less than 50 square feet?
How can all Councils believe it is up to the social landlord to define a bedroom or to decide how many bedrooms a property has? They can’t and they know they can’t. Yet instead the poor vulnerable tenant is being fed a pack of lies by Councils who say it is up to the landlord, which it clearly is not, and they are not telling claimants that the bedroom tax decision has merely been taken on the basis of the lowest administrative cost to each local Council?
Councils have been trying every trick in the book to hide their incompetence and neglect of making the bedroom tax decision correctly as they should have done. It is up to the landlord; this is a FOI request; this is a subject access request under the DPA etc yet all the while knowing each Council has the ability to prosecute for the renting out of a room below a certain size. Convenient falsehoods which say there is no legal definition of what constitutes a bedroom have been trotted out. Yet Councils know there is a definition of what CANNOT constitute a bedroom already in legislation that amounts to the same thing and which they conveniently Councils have ignored in order to arrive at the lowest cost decision to them.
At best they have taken this slapdash and unlawful blanket approach to bedroom tax decisions and hoped that not too many would appeal against the decision or how the Council arrived at the decisions. That is not acceptable and can never be acceptable given that the bedroom tax decision can take away over 50% of the subsidence benefit level of £71.70 per week a tenant receives. The bedroom tax deduction is a life-changing decision.
Bull and bluster, lies and deceit and potentially letting social landlords away with multi-millions in what amounts to benefit fraud by social landlords is what Councils have done instead of going to the cost of getting the bedroom tax decisions right. I did initially have some sympathy for local Councils as the bedroom tax decisions they were compelled to make were additional to their everyday Housing Benefit decisions they have to take – a huge increase in workload and cost to them even at the woeful level they took in deciding them. Yet now we simply see Councils trying to defend the original decisions with every cock and bull story in the book and in doing so are denying justice and the absolute right of tenant claimants appealing these inept decisions.
Every Council needed to ask for sizes of these alleged bedrooms which is something they have never had to ask before. Yet they did not do this because it would cost too much in time and resource and money. You cannot impose a bedroom tax deduction is you do not KNOW what a bedroom is or have any working definition of what a bedroom constitutes. A Council cannot decide reliably that a property has too many bedrooms, which is the ONLY criterion on which to impose the bedroom tax, if you do not and will not define what a bedroom is. Yet that is precisely what Councils have not done and despite knowing they have powers to prosecute for anyone representing too small a room as a bedroom. Local Councils deserve to have huge cost and huge anger thrust upon them for the way or HOW they took the inept and legally unreliable bedroom tax decisions, all aided and incredibly strongly steered by irrational and unworkable guidance from central government in the A4 of 2012.
You cannot trust a Council as the bedroom tax decision has shown they will rise to an even higher level of incompetence than normal. You most definitely cannot trust a government which designs policy like the bedroom tax out of political ends and drafted on the back of a fag-packet. Let’s hope the judiciary sees through this charade and sham of how local Councils felt compelled to ride roughshod over their mandatory duties as agents of the DWP and how they shafted tenants in doing so.
When as in the Coventry case above a room is counted as a bedroom and in which the tenant cannot even get into the room to use a bed then something is very seriously wrong. When social landlords become the arbiters and decision-makers of welfare benefit policy despite having a huge vested interest there is something seriously wrong. When Councils neglect their mandatory duties to decide each case on its merits, individually and correctly because it will cost them to do just that the whole matter stinks to high heaven. When Councils then attempt to justify their corner cutting with what is tantamount to lies and widescale benefit fraud by social landlords you see what “we are all in this together” really means. When you consider that about 40% of social landlords are in fact Councils themselves you realise just how badly this sorry mess really does stink!