All bedroom tax households should appeal the bedroom tax now – and here’s why!!
I have for the last 8 months and more advocated that tenants should appeal against the HB bedroom tax decision and specifically I have stated that tenants use process or procedural grounds for appeal as opposed to the legal grounds presented directly to the High Court by way of judicial review.
In simple terms HOW each council took the decisions to impose the bedroom tax is where you will find just cause to appeal.
I note that a HB tribunal in Scotland got under way this week and the judge in this tribunal is a QC no less and he said about the bedroom tax that
“… the regulations were harsh but made it clear his job was not to take into account the effect they would have on tenants but to apply them according to the law”
In other word the process and procedure of how the decision was made…and what I have said all along.
Yet so many appeals and so much of social media has been about the bedroom tax being ‘unfair’ or ‘unjust’ or have devastating and life changing consequences – all of which are true, YET the clamour for media ink over disability and other very strong moral or just issues have seen too many overlook HOW THE DECISION WAS MADE – The process and legality of that and not the consequences.
The rest of the article about the first bedroom tax tribunal case in Scotland focuses on the individual circumstances of a tenant but, and very significantly so, contains some verbatim remarks from the QC hearing and deciding the case and the extract below starts with the council spokesman….
“Kingdom Housing has confirmed this is a two-bedroom property,” he said. “By applying the regulations, the council has no option but to apply the reduction in housing benefit.” He added: “We are relying on landlords to accurately describe their properties. There is no definition of minimum bedroom size.”
However, Mr Collins QC said that was “slightly ambiguous”, adding:
“It’s up to the local authority to make its own decision that the landlord has accurately described the property.
“Because this is an appeal, it is now for me to decide what a bedroom is.
In this case, the council has made a decision based on the landlord’s description but hasn’t even gone round to inspect the room.”
Summing up, the QC added:
“These are harsh regulations about which people may have legitimate grievance, but that’s not a matter for me.”
“I have to decide what they mean and apply them. I hope you appreciate this is a new and controversial matter the tribunal needs to get to grips with.”
The purpose of this post is NOT for me to say I told you so to the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), to the National Housing Federation (NHF), to every social landlord and to every local council who:
- have repeatedly said it is up to the landlord to decide
- who have said the decision rests with the landlord not the council
- that the decision is not for councils to make
- that a council has to decide what a bedroom is in order to make the bedroom tax decision…
As that is precisely what Simon Collins QC says above and I don’t need to!
I am also drawing attention to the language he used and as this is verbatim we must presume he meant for this to be publicly aired –
“the council…hasn’t even gone round to inspect the room!”
That line will put the fear of God into local councils and rightly so as I have always maintained that local councils taking a HB decision need to KNOW the facts and not just take the word of the landlords, which they did because it was the cheapest and most convenient option for them…and scandalously shafted vulnerable tenants on benefits in that distasteful process!
If councils have to go and inspect any disputed room / bedroom or have to KNOW what is a bedroom or not, whether in terms of size or any other matter, then not having done so and prior to imposing the bedroom tax deduction renders all 660,000 decisions as very legally dodgy indeed and presumably unlawful and at best chronic maladministration.
These opening remarks of a QC hearing the tribunal and he will deliberate on these matters and then rule are hugely significant. The fact he states that he has to decide what a bedroom is and that the council hasn’t even been round to see the room and confirms that the decision on what is a bedroom is solely a council decision and not a landlord decision will scare the life out of local councils and social landlords.
To date my views have been just opinion. Yet so have the views of councils and landlords and the CIH and NHF and while I have expressed my views forcefully so has every council and every social landlord …yet these comments made by the QC all support my views and all work against the views of hundreds of social landlords and hundreds of councils in their views which not to put too fine a point on it, they have all tried to ram down the throats of anyone who has argued against them.
What is more the standard template letter I drafted which asked 6 questions for more information shows that every council simply took the landlords view on what is a bedroom and how many bedrooms each property has. That is a matter of record and in writing too from all councils and they all still maintain these views. The scope for all of the 660,000 bedroom tax affected households who have yet to appeal has seen the stable door opened wide because of this.
Note well – A tenant has 13 months to appeal any HB decision such as the bedroom tax. Within the first month is classed as an ‘in-time’ case and the tribunal have to rule on it. Months 2 to 13 the appeal is classed as ‘out-of-time’ and the tribunal can decide to dismiss without hearing the appeal during this time.
Yet if your appeal has substantive merit the tribunal will likely and should hear the appeal – and I would advise they do so because they have been strongly and repeatedly dissuaded from appealing precisely by the councils who made the decisions and told they couldn’t appeal.
These appeals may well be classed as ‘out-of-time’ appeals but they have substantive merit and the tribunals can choose to and should hear them on that basis alone – the fact that councils repeatedly misinformed them and constantly stated and restated that this was a landlord decision on what is a bedroom and how many each property has and the fact that councils didn’t know room sizes or room usages before they imposed the decision.
Tenants have absolutely nothing to lose by submitting an appeal on these procedural or process grounds of HOW a council made the decision that I always advocated have legitimate merit and that a tribunal would have to decide. Only the tribunal can decide not to hear these cases so don’t be put off by councils telling you that you are ‘out-of-time’ which they inevitably will or that you can’t appeal on these grounds as many have already said in writing or any other shenanigans and dirty tricks that local councils have played ever since April by overtly dissuading tenants from appealing.
Tenants still have a legal right of appeal to every single bedroom tax decision and just these preliminary words and directions of Simon Collins QC has opened the barn door very wide indeed to have an out-of-time appeal heard by the tribunals and not dismissed.
I listed well over 20 similar points to the above as a by no means comprehensive list of appeal grounds of the bedroom tax decision-making process on April 9th and you can access that here.
Get appealing as you have nothing whatsoever to lose and everything to gain by issuing such an appeal and not least the fact that will a district judge award an eviction caused by bedroom tax arrears if it is still to be decided by another court as to whether the bedroom tax should have been imposed in the first place? I would strongly argue they should not and likely will not. The district judge cannot be certain the claimed arrears figures issued by the social landlord are correct or not!
Cue every single social landlord finance director gone ashen in the face at that line of argument!!
Get appealing people it is your right and you have just and legitimate cause and the worst that can happen is the system gets inundated with paperwork and huge cost to councils and the judiciary and forces the arm of central government to review this pernicious and deeply offensive bedroom tax policy which will cost FAR MORE than it could ever save.
Postscript – Just for good measure I was looking at the coalition’s financial rationale for the bedroom tax which they stated less than a month after the last election was to reduce the ‘inherited’ and ‘burgeoning’ HB bill by £2bn per year. It is now well over £5bn above that target and on course for far more as the simple little graph below shows.
The Coalition’s HB performance since the Election
Mind the gap! And yes the figures do mean BILLIONS of pounds MORE each year!!
Oh did I mention you should be appealing the bedroom tax decision?