The Guardian is reporting the bedroom tax appeal case in Westminster here and you can read the full details of the case there. The Westminster bedroom tax appeal judgment is here and in full, all one page of it.
It makes interesting reading as the case concerned a blind man, Mr Lal who the judge accepted his spare room was (a) never intended for use as a bedroom, (b) never used as a bedroom, and (c) was used to store his disability equipment. The judge also goes on to say (d) the term ‘bedroom’ is nowhere defined in and (e) he applied the ordinary English meaning.
There are 5 key points (a) through (e) and these need further comment.
(a) Never intended for use as a bedroom? The lack of intention was the tenants not the landlord who did originally tell the council that the flat was a 2 bed flat and not a 1 bed flat. The landlord then did decide to call it a 1 bed flat just ahead of this matter going to court. So does this mean the tenant’s intentioned use of a room makes the room a mere room or a bedroom? If so then there are many potential appeals going to be launched on a similar basis.
(b) Never used as a bedroom? Does this mean if a purported bedroom has never been used as a bedroom then it is not a bedroom? This is very similar to the AHG case in Fife when the historic use of a room carried a lot of weight with the judge.
(c) Used to store disability equipment? This is perhaps of the greatest significance given it is uncontested there are around 420,000 of the 660,000 bedroom tax affected households with a disability. Obviously if the tenants disability ‘equipment’ is a single white cane then that will not qualify; yet just as obviously there is no definition of ‘disability equipment’ to enable an exempt category for all and so the ONLY way to get a correct decision is to appeal the original sham decisions every council made.
Let me restate that point.
An appeal is the ONLY way to get the correct decision that should have been done in the first place.
That is an outrage and a scandal and yet again shows the original decisions and the original decision-making process was a sham. Councils never asked about room purpose or usage, either substantive or historic usage, they merely just accepted the landlord’s word – the opinion of a vested interest and all because to do the decision correctly as all public bodies should make decisions, was too costly. It would have meant councils having to inspect properties which they never did.
Now with so many likely appeals councils will have to go out to inspect else (i) the judge will say why didn’t they at the appeal, (ii) lambast councils for not inspecting disputed properties and wasting court time, and (iii) councils will incur more cost going to tribunals than going out to inspect which now become the lowest cost option.
(d) The term ‘bedroom’ is nowhere defined. Yes and stated often and repeatedly on many occasions. Though it does conflict with the judge’s ruling in Fife who did link a bedroom to the 1987 Housing Scotland Act the same as the 1985 Housing Act for England & Wales, although they both refer to ‘sleeping apartment’ and not ‘bedroom.’
(e) The ordinary English meaning of bedroom? What needs very careful noting here is that room size which many erroneously equate with a definition and often the key definition is absent. The judge rules on room usage, room purpose, historic room use, substantive room use but NOT on room size.
In one dimension this is similar to the HB Circular U6/2013 rushed out by DWP in Corporal Jones Dad’s Army fashion this week which said define a bedroom by anything but room size at paragraph 4 which said: –
“…the only consideration (sic) should be the composition of the household and the number of bedrooms as designated by the landlord, but not by measuring rooms.”
Yet in another it directly contrasts with the U6/2013 guidance at 6 which says:
“Where rooms are designated as bedrooms landlords should classify it as such notwithstanding that the tenant may argue that it has been habitually used for something else (such as storage).”
That is precisely what the landlord did originally yet changed its mind shortly ahead of this case going to tribunal as it agreed with the habitual use of storage.
A potentially very large number of the 420,000 disabled bedroom tax households will have a need to store disability equipment and will likely appeal on that ground and associated ones such as historic use and room usage and purpose. Yet again the ONLY way for a correct decision to be made is for the bedroom tax tenant to appeal and that is risible and deeply offensive.
The DWP policy is slap the tax on all and sundry and hope too many do not appeal – an outrageous strategy and a disgrace. Yet if they do appeal then it is going to cost the public purse hundreds of millions of pounds and FAR more than the bedroom tax takes away. The cost to local councils to administer all the pre-tribunal paperwork and to attend the tribunals and to then go back and change decisions is a huge cost to the public purse. Then there is the cost of the tribunals themselves which is another huge cost to the public purse.
Yet because the ONLY way for each tenant to get a correct and lawful decision is to appeal then those costs are direct ones all caused by the sham original bedroom tax guidance of the A4/2012 of central government which local authorities simply followed. How the hell can you decide if a social tenant has too many bedrooms if you can’t and more correctly WON’T define what a bedroom is and constitutes.
Local authorities define and decide upon whether a property is ‘sheltered housing’ or not and have done so daily for many years and the term ‘sheltered’ and ‘sheltered housing’ also has no legal definition!
Yet the same HB departments of local councils flatly refused to define what the word ‘bedroom’ meant and comprised. Instead they repeated the mantra that there is no legal definition and we don’t have to define – the exact opposite of what they have done for years in sheltered housing. Aside from the principle here note well that in a low rent area such as Liverpool sees a 1 bed social housing flat attract about £75 per week in HB yet a 1 bed sheltered social flat can attract £150 per week in HB – this is no minor difference.
What this reveals is that HB departments used “there is no legal definition of a bedroom” as explanation but clearly not excuse. It is and was inexcusable to levy the bedroom tax on vulnerable people based on the assertion of a vested interest, the social landlord, and that alone. Local councils should never do that because they THINK it may apply, they have to KNOW that the bedroom tax does apply just like any other HB decision. Yet the original decisions and the decision making processes of the bedroom tax were a sham. Now that is coming back to haunt local councils in terms of cost, and they deserve these additional costs too for going along with the sham of this policy process.
Local councils will no doubt state they had to do these decisions and had to do them in a short space of time and with no extra resources to do them, either in the sham way they did or do them properly as they should. That is true yet appears as no more than just another hollow excuse and with this case like the Fife ones providing huge scope to appeal and a massive increase in appeals which will cost local councils, and then they will reap what they have sowed for going along with this farce and sham in the first place.
I for one have little sympathy for the costs local councils will have to bear. If they either individually of through the LGA had lobbied central government on this and openly so and forcefully I would have had all the sympathy in the world. Yet they did not lobby central government, they just sat idly by and thought they could get away with excuses such as (a) there is no definition and (b) this was forced upon us. It’s long overdue for one of these local councils to grow a set and rule that in their area any room of less than 70 square feet is not a bedroom which they should have done months and months ago and saved huge amounts and not saw their reputation hugely tarnished for shafting the vulnerable social tenant.
The huge costs local councils now face sums up the key issue with them and the bedroom tax decision making process. We can’t afford to do the job properly by inspecting each property so we will just impose it willy nilly and hope too many don’t challenge us by way of appeal. That in a nutshell is the farce of the bedroom tax decision making process. Now that bedroom tax appeals are finally getting to the courts that local councils strategy is revealed as being a high risk one as well as an offensive and errant one and local councils deserve no sympathy whatsoever for acting in cahoots with central government.