Time for tenants to unleash their real power (and sue landlords) over the bedroom tax

Yesterday I posted about Magenta Living and their two-page leaflet in which they just don’t get the bedroom tax.  Late yesterday in an emailed response to a request for them to send somebody to a meeting last night about this they firstly apologised for not doing so and it was short notice, and then their assistant director of housing John Mycock sent this incredulous letter below to explain their policy and to clarify the two-page leaflet.   After apologising (and no issue with this it was short notice) that there was nobody available John Mycock then attempts to clarify Magenta Living’s position:

“Therefore, it is appropriate to make Magenta Living’s position on the issue of the size of a bedroom clearer. It has always been the position that it was our duty to comply with whatever guidance was issued by the relevant Agency.”

No it was not an there is no duty at all and in fact the June 2012 bedroom tax guidance issued by DWP (HB circular A4/2012) states clearly at paragraph 20 that landlords do not have to respond to any request for information from the council at all.  Here is what paragraph 20 of the bedroom tax A4/2012 guidance says: –

“There is no obligation on landlords to reply to a request for information.” 

Can anyone please advise how Magenta reads that as it being a duty on them?  A duty is something mandated as opposed to a power which is discretionary and this is a good premise from which to start on that analysis.  The guidance could not be less ambiguous and landlords had no obligation whatsoever and they CHOSE to give councils information and Magenta here is trying to backtrack on that sorry state of affairs. Magenta goes on: –

“You will appreciate that for the initial months of the operation of the new legislation there was no definitive guidance offered.” 

Again untrue as there being no obligation on the landlord to provide any data is pretty definitive!  So I do not appreciate being misled by Magenta and neither should any of its 3000 or so tenants who have been hit with the bedroom tax.  Any sentence that starts “You will appreciate” is usually a pretext for an immediate untruth to follow and especially so in this case.  Additionally, why does Magenta talk of the initial months of operation, ie April 2013 onwards in any case when it had done the damage beforehand?  Yes pure management speak for nonsense dear reader! The letter continues:-

“The DWP were issuing guidance to Local Authority Housing Benefit teams and these were passed on to Magenta Living and there was little certainty about what Registered Housing Providers were being asked to do.”

They could have done nothing at all as paragraph 20 says above clearly and yes definitively! Also note the phrase what landlords were being ‘asked’ to do – does being asked amount to a duty? No, of course not yet this simply shows how much of an attempt at backside covering this letter of explanation from Magenta is!  And yes it gets worse reader, they continue: –

“In recent weeks the position has been clarified. In response to the Fife decision the DWP stated that space standards do not relate to the removal of the spare room subsidy.”

Firstly there were 5 Fife rulings not one and I see that it is clear Magenta has not read the Fife rulings! Three of these contained room size issues  (AHG, DN and unnamed) and some contained usable floor space issues too. Secondly the court ruled that room size in terms of usable floor space does matter and the court decision despite being a FTT holds more legality and sway that the knee jerk DWP response in the U6/2013 guidance.  As we see by the day the courts are telling the DWP with increasing regularity that they are wrong, but it is not a surprise that a social landlord caves in and doesn’t think when the DWP issues a dictat and simply agrees with it!  The DWP has spoken let’s all take this as read and follow blindly like sheep says Magenta!  By the way does anyone know how much white feathers cost these days? Flippant? Unwarranted reader?  No not at all and do read on with an open mind as to what Magenta as a landlord is attempting here.

Magenta continues: –

“Their guidance states that one of the criteria should be that the room should be able to accommodate at least a single bed.”

Please name another criterion?  Yes that’s right there isn’t any in this ‘guidance’ from the DWP at all.   As I have discussed previously that is all it says and a single bed measures 15.2 square feet.  Also note well that Magenta simply takes the DWP version that a bedroom only needs to be a ‘single’ bedroom and not a double as the courts have ruled and I comment on this further below. Note again how Magenta simply caves in to the ludicrous guidance the DWP issued in the U6/2013 guidance (and of course this was directed at councils not landlords too but Magenta clearly dont recognise this either!)

“We have set about exercising reasonable judgement and have subsequently reclassified a small number of homes which we had previously inspected and evaluated. The main point here is that there is no prescribed mechanism for evaluating what is or is not a bedroom; it is for the landlord to exercise judgement in terms of reasonableness.”

No it is not for the landlord to exercise judgement at all.  The decision on what a bedroom is and what it is not is absolutely nothing to do with the landlord.  That is a sole decision of the council who are the decision-making body, an then for the courts to decide on just how badly councils and landlords got this wrong!  Guess what, thats what the court says too, the landlords word is indicative and not determinative.  Oh sorry my apologies reader it is clear Magenta has not read the Fife rulings!  

Also note that Magenta had previously inspected some properties.  So they admit that the data they gave to the council was wrong in the first place: You know the data they had no obligation whatsoever to provide but did, that same data which errantly and unlawfully saw the council imposing the life changing bedroom tax on Magenta customers!

“In an effort to be as transparent as possible, Magenta Living has chosen to use the common sense approach of asking if a bed, wardrobe and chest of drawers can fit into a particular bedroom?”

Despite the guidance not being directed at landlords we see the landlord assuming it is their role. That intention to get involved is fine but only if it is done correctly and with some forethought, yet here it is a case of a lack of thinking and even devious thinking to protect themselves.

The Fife rulings made a very important distinction between a single and a double bedroom and ruled that a bedroom needs to be able to accommodate an adult or two children, or indeed a lodger.  That is a compelling aspect that Magenta has simply ridden roughshod over in this clarification of their ‘thinking’ – which only shows that they either have not thought or are deliberately accepting the DWP view so as to limit their own exposure to being sued, which I discuss below. A bedroom for bedroom tax purposes needs to be a double bedroom in lay speak.  Yet Magenta has decided to go along with the DWP charade in the U6/2013 of a bedroom only needing to accommodate a single bed which is NOT what the courts have ruled.  This is very worrying and very incorrect.

I did wonder if Magenta has took a very similar approach to the Welsh Housing Quality Standards which details this including floor plans and include sizes of said bedroom furniture and the necessary space needed inbetween these furniture items?  Or have they just made this up so they can make an entirely subjective and arbitrary decision in each individual case and only then when tenants have come forward! I suspect it is the latter very strongly.  Then Magenta goes off on a wild goose chase and fairy story: –

“This gets round the rigid approach of simple floor area calculations as some rooms are configured in a way which makes them unsuitable to fit a bed into whilst others, with a smaller floor area, are perfectly usable.”

Magenta clearly have not read the Fife rulings and what the courts decided as they included the concept of ‘usable’ floor space which has (conveniently?) escaped the notice of Magenta.  And what is this claim of ‘rigidity’ over floor size calculations? The fact they have been in operation for 28 years without ever being labelled ‘rigid’ says a lot about this fairy tale Magenta are concocting here and holds no validity at all.

“No method of evaluation is perfect and this represents our best and most understandable effort and this is why we placed the article in the Tenant Newsletter requesting that tenants make contact with us if they have any concerns about the size of a bedroom.”

Hang on a minute.  Magenta take the U6/2013 on bard hook line and sinker and this says that you can use anyway of defining a bedroom as long as it is not bedroom size.  So Magenta is being duplicitous here and engaging in rank hypocrisy and doublespeak by saying this over room ‘size!’

Then they invent some reason NOT to use the 1985 Housing Act as a mehtod which they claim is too inflexible yet as I say above the floor size calculations of the space and room standards have been in place for 28 years without a claim against their rigidity so why reinvent the wheel?  This is a concoction which tenants should show deep concern over as it smacks of Magenta seeking to cover their backsides and nothing else.

Also why does this only apply IF the tenant comes forward? That is simply unjust and wrong and a huge piece of conditionality.  Magenta knows and realises they made a mistake with the date they passed onto the council in the first place. They realise – like every social landlord – that they have passed on data which the councils accepted and used to impose the bedroom tax on a collective en masse basis.  Yet they now expect each individual tenant to challenge that on an individual basis and only get redress for this error on an individual basis IF they come forward.  And even then they expect the tenant to go through the landlord and not appeal to the council who made the decision!!  That is not customer service as I am sure the landlord wishes to portray it, that is damage limitation and the landlord taking the piss out of the tenant!  I make no apologies for that language as it accurately and unambiguously describes the reality.

Further what makes Magenta think it is up to them to decide? What a bedroom is and constitutes is for the council to decide not the landlord and so Magenta are doing the council’s dirty work here. Why?

The lack of thinking by social landlords never fails to surprise or does the level of incompetence or to their willingness to tug their forelocks at whatever bull the DWP comes out with! Or in fact landlords deviousness!

Why don’t and why haven’t Magenta advised tenants of their right of appeal against the council decision?

That is the key question.  If landlords want to be perceived to be on the tenant’s side and perceived as giving customer service to their customers, the tenants , then why have they not advised tenants of their right of appeal against the bedroom tax decision.  The only answer is that to do so would expose landlords complicity in the sham decision making bedroom tax process in the first place.  Yet appealing is a legal right of the tenant and still landlords do not inform them of this!

Magenta implicitly admits it got it wrong originally as the newsletter does and the only surprise I see is that tenants are not queuing up to sue Magenta for their part in passing duff data to Wirral council and being adversely affected by it.  Especially so when now Magenta admit they are that incompetent that they cannot even read paragraph 20 of the bedroom tax guidance which says they did not have to provide anything at all. 

I wonder what a judge would make of their defence that they thought they were duty bound to provide information to the council?  I am sure they would give that notion very short shrift if tenants do sue their landlords for their ignominious part in the bedroom tax sham decision making process.  Similarly, the judge would note that landlords have NOT advised tenants of their legal right to appeal the bedroom tax decisions and would rightly conclude that they are seeking to cover up their role in this charade.

The argument for tenants to sue landlords is a simple one and one I thought I would never advocate yet I do now.  Landlords provided information that they need not have done which gave adverse consequences to the tenant and very significant adverse consequences.  The fact that Magenta Living now wish to portray and receive good PR for this leaflet only serves to show the reality of them covering up their part in this sham, their complicity in this sham and their implicit admittance that they know they got this wrong.  This leaflet is nothing more than a cover up and landlords employing a damage limitation exercise so their exposure to being sued or even just blamed is limited to those tenants who still have the strength to challenge this farce and sham and then only through the landlord.

The reason I now advocate tenants sue landlords is because social landlords need to be shaken out of their cowardice in challenging the bedroom tax.  I would rather social landlords would have chosen to stand four-square behind tenants as this is the right thing for them to do and in financial terms not just moral ones.  Yet I was hoping against hope and social landlords steadfastly refuse to see the business logic in this and continue to acquiesce to this pernicious policy which damages them almost as much as it damages the tenant.  It is time tenants unleashed the latent power their numbers hold.

Tenants should seek to sue social landlords on the simple ground I give above, they have legal cause to do so as they have been adversely affected by the landlord decision to supply ‘data’ to councils when they did not have to and note data needs to be processed before it becomes information a step the councils chose not to do!  Tenants should also get involved in many different lawful direct actions against social landlords such as simple tasks like writing to them to renegotiate their rent which is seemingly acceptable for a private tenant to do so why not the social tenant?  Tenants have a huge amount of ‘power’ given their numbers and with social media such as Facebook and Twitter they have the means to organise in large numbers and rapidly as the many anti bedroom tax groups across the country have demonstrated.  It is time for tenants to unleash that latent power they have and scare the hell out of social landlords, and indeed the government as after all the customer is sovereign.

Landlords claim to despise the bedroom tax as much as tenants so why are they not standing four-square behind the tenant?  In fact social landlords in not advising or even informing tenants of their right of appeal against the bedroom tax decisions, all of which were sham decisions, are preventing tenants exercising their rights and landlords are perceived, and correctly, to be on the side of the government.  You think landlords moan enough about arrears now reader?  Wait till direct payments comes in and tenants massively de-prioritise the payment of rent when they get control of that! As I have stated all along landlords being perceived to not be behind tenants is going to massively increase rent arrears; yet the dumb arse social landlord fails to see this huge risk and continues to acquiesce to the pernicious bedroom tax!  That is not a high risk strategy it is a bloody stupid strategy and once again demonstrates that social landlords don’t know what they are doing and refuse to think.

Social landlords are digging their own grave with their inept responses to the bedroom tax and it really is time for tenants to unleash the power they have and frighten the living daylights out of them.  Social landlords have proved to be incompetent and the ONLY way to wake them up out of their slumber is for tenants to exert the real power they have.

An argument I never wanted to raise but one that is needed!

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3 thoughts on “Time for tenants to unleash their real power (and sue landlords) over the bedroom tax

  1. I have no hesitation in suing my landlord and have already looked into this. It may be a vain hope but would be good if your blog was enough to scare them into action. Even as recent as this week, my landlord is more concerned with DHP applications than appeals. The stance is ‘you wont win’. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve asked ‘when did you become a judge?’ You are correct, it should never have come to this. HA exist because we, the tenant exist. telling us how to make £71 go further after paying 25% bedroom tax is just ridiculous. Try telling them you already have deductions so you don’t even get £71 a week! Foodbanks are useless if you have no heat or light, yet HA & councils plough money into them. They really do not understand & still refuse to engage with tenants. They (my HA) do not care about appeals, they see them as irrevelant.

  2. for those thinking of going down this route, you can do it through the small claims court. If you are on benefits you wont have to pay court fees. You would need to decide what you want from the court action though. Are you suing for unpaid housing benefit, mental anguish, compensation due to your landlord’s transfer of data? Or can you not put a price on it or do you want a non monetary result? You must try and settle a claim before taking court action and only use the court if you cannot get the problem solved by negotiation. I would guess almost 100% of us have tried engaging with our landlord. keep a copy of all letters etc.

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