Rather than go over what has happened this year with the bedroom tax and related issues which seems to be the remit of so many blogs, I thought I would suggest what the coming year will bring and discuss that instead.
The most obvious fact is sometime in March social housing tenants will be getting their new HB decision notices for the 2014/15 financial year. These new HB decision notices will all have a new set of review and appeal rights for all tenants that receive them and tenants will be much better prepared to appeal than they were this time last year; and I strongly suspect far more tenants will appeal too for man reasons.
Firstly, many more tenants now know they can appeal and that is more than stating the obvious! In November and December I delivered a number of bedroom tax appeal workshops to tenant and landlords and two frontline ‘welfare officers’ for housing associations admitted they did not realise that tenants COULD appeal the bedroom tax! Of course this also meant no tenants were told they could appeal too. I will publish some of the findings of these appeal workshops soon along with dates of new ones I will be doing from end of January across the country as they were enlightening to say the least.
Secondly, tenants have seen successful appeals on issues to which they can easily relate and so will adopt the attitude of if a tenant in Scotland can win on room size they why can’t I in Cornwall. The same applies for the other successful appeal issues, room usage, room purpose and me or my partner is disabled and need t and do sleep apart do we can be allowed a bedroom each. I am not saying each case is not fact-specific as they are or that an appeal guarantees a win on these issues; rather if a tenant elsewhere can do it then why can’t I will be the strategy adopted.
Thirdly, the bedroom tax and other welfare reforms such as the abolition of council tax benefit and more will see tenants adopt an enough is enough approach too.
Fourth, as I have recently promoted that many tenants have had the bedroom tax imposed in error as they are exempt due to the protection they have on the pre 1996 issue. The general public and tenant awareness of this will only serve to increase the anger over the bedroom tax and increase the desire to get rid of it and hence more tenants will appeal
Fifth, social landlords are now checking their records to see if tenants have been in the same properties and in receipt of HB continuously since before 1 January 1996 which makes them exempt from the bedroom tax. Social landlords will score ‘brownie points’ for this in tenant eyes and God knows they need to as despite the bedroom tax creating tension between landlord and tenant directly landlords have been perceived, correctly in my view, by tenants as being heavy-handed in how they have treated bedroom tax affected tenants and focused primarily on arrears and especially in the first 6 months of the bedroom tax.
Sixth, there is the beginning of a seachange amongst social landlords who are now starting to see that a tenant appealing the bedroom tax benefits the landlord. What has taken social landlords so long to get to this position God only knows and while there are some honorable and very honorable exceptions the vast majority of social landlords have not helped their tenants to appeal and just as many haven’t even informed tenants of this, which aside from being an outrage just doesn’t make any business sense.
Before social landlords cast opprobrium my way for daring to criticise them however constructively please look at your landlords website which will be riven with welfare reform and bedroom tax pages yet 99% will state that tenants can appeal the bedroom tax! So my first comment above that frontline staff in HAs did not know the tenant could appeal becomes less surprising but all the more outrageous.
Seventh, landlords have woken up and smelled the coffee in the main. The bedroom tax is an attack on the social housing model itself and on the way “we have always done it” which is the typical view of the notoriously slow to change social rented ‘sector.’ Yet it is much more than that and there are still many urgent changes that social landlords need to make and will have to adopt.
- The welfare reforms put the social into social housing.
- Social housing is now about people not bricks and mortar
- Social landlords need to THINK!
Those first two statements mean the same thing and the third will be read as arrogant but it is not and frankly unless landlords do think they will be very much in the brown smelly stuff and very quickly.
[Ignore sheltered housing for the sake of argument and as it is neither general needs or supported housing]
I have worked primarily in supported housing for the last 20 years or so, that complex and labour intensive tiny part of social housing and supported housing is ALL about people.Dress it up in any consultant speak such as person-centred or what have you it is still all about people and not about bricks and mortar. The other 95%+ of social housing is general needs, the common or garden HA or council flat, and is all about bricks and mortar and NOT about people. Yet the welfare reforms are ALL about people and not about bricks and mortar.
The bedroom tax deducts based on people. The benefit cap deducts on the number of persons too as welfare benefit levels consistent across the country. Monthly payments and direct payments of benefit when and if they come online are all about people and their ability to manage finances and inclination to prioritise the payment of rent. The massive increase in sanctions of JSA/IS/ESA claimants up from 7800 per year between April 2000 to April 2010 to 75000 per year since May 2010 triggers the cessation of HB and just like the bedroom tax and the benefit cap it is Housing Benefit that gets cut and HB is the lifeblood of social landlords income.
Social landlords do realise they need to know much more of their tenants and about them but the scale of that is huge and much more than they realise in my view and less contentiously far more than they alone can possibly deal with.
The stark reality is demonstrated when we consider what we already know about 2014/15. The situation is going to get much worse.
Some landlord issues
DHPs – Coalition stated that the 3 year figure for 2013/14; 2014/15; 2015/6 is £350m and this year it was £150m so leaving just £100m each for 14/15 and for 15/16…and yes April 15 is a month before election so it is included rightly. £150m this year probably £100m next – a fall of 33% will have a huge impact on arrears. Note too that Tory-run councils like North Lincs have already started the politics on this saying they have too much DHP and nobody is claiming. So they give this back and coalition uses this to say the £25m they allocated for bedroom tax arrears for a £500m cut was more than enough!!
Benefit cap – With the cap figures of £500 and £350 per week remaining in place for 2014/15 and with welfare benefits and especially rents increasing then more and more tenants hit by the cap next year as they will be every year due to the systemic flaw theory I developed in October 2012. Remember 46% of those affected by the benefit cap are in social housing yet social landlords like to see this in huge error as just a high private rent issue when it is not.
Council Tax – councils were given a warning and a bung to keep this low this year but next year? I strongly doubt that my home city of Liverpool can afford to subsidise it as it did this year by £1.7m which saw former CTB recipients have t pay just 8% of rates when neighbouring Sefton set it at 20% and neighbouring Wirral at 22%. Paying more council tax will impact on ability to pay rent and as councils are rushing headlong into court fro council tax arrears and sending bailiffs to doors tenants may well prioritise council tax over rent payments.
Sanctions – These have been massively increased as explained above – a ten-fold increase and it wouldn’t surprise if a tenant gets sanctioned for farting within a mile of a jobcentre plus building such is the regularity of bizarre sanctions being imposed. In discussion 3 months or more ago with a HA Chief Executive and being informed that somewhere between £350k and £500k of HB this year will be lost directly to sanctions and some of which is not reclaimable
Local councils – A number of LAs are now stating on bedroom tax reviews that they will not entertain any change UNLESS the landlord reclassifies!! Apart from this being highly legally questionable and I would say outright unlawful, it reveals that LAs are trying to pass the buck onto social landlords to avoid extra cost to LAs. I suspect strongly that strategy will develop over this coming year too which of course will agin have IDS and his DWP cronies smiling as the actors involved in and negatively affected by the bedroom tax are squabbling amongst one anther rather than unifying and challenging central government!
Ah plus ca change!
In summary, tenants need to and will appeal more. Landlords need to think and recognise that the welfare reforms are a radical attack on social housing as a model that requires a radical response. Local councils need the proverbial rocket up their backsides and as the pre-1996 exemption from the bedroom tax shows clearly strong and repeated challenges to their ‘we have to do this as its been imposed on us by central government” excuse they trot out time and time again. Unless of course local government grow a set and have some principles….nah come on Joe even at this time of year that is just too bloody naive a thought!
Central government needs to be challenged by all and more and more openly and more and more regularly and in more ways. Has anyone for example thought of contacting their MP with a view to launching a Parliamentary Ombudsman case into the DWP misleading and misdirecting LAs over the pre-1996 bedroom tax exemption issue? C’mon people do you want to be spoonfed? Read paragraph 10 of the A4/2012 bedroom tax guidance and how despite mentioning “eligible rent” no less than 29 times in the A4/2012 the DWP missed the pre 1996 exemption! Then look up Parliamentary Ombudsman and what you have to do to issue a maladministration charge against DWP.
Anyone know of a HA with balls who will help and advise its tenants to do this? Anyone see the huge political cock-up that will totally undermine this pernicious policy and see by extension all the welfare reforms being perceived rightly as ‘back of a fag packet?’
Surely there are some HAs with some Labour MPs who are switched on enough to see the political capital in this?
Enough rambling from me people
PS DWP were granted permission to appeal the Fife rulings in a letter dated 17 December 2013. The judge ruling that while he found no errors of law in his decision the nature and level of public interest means it is right the Upper Tribunal considers the room size issue. While this means the UT case has to start within 6 months or by 17 May 2014, anyone else see this case being opened and then adjourned so DWP can ensure that any binding decision does not come out before May 2015?