The DWP has finally come out and admitted it got it wrong in the Urgent Housing Benefit circular number 1 – that is what “U” stands for in the U1/2014; and in typically DWP fashion they attempt to say it’s only a “small” number of people (para 1) to minimise this cock up and then say they are going to change the regulations at paragraphs 1, 8 and 10.
A small number DWP? That’s absolute bollocks and see below for why
No sorry we have cocked up. No sorry for the maladministration. No apology for the thousands upon thousands of people who have been affected and had to make life-changing decisions because of the wrong imposition of the bedroom tax – just imagine the child who knows they have done wrong and issues an apology because they are told they must but don’t really want to – it’s that sort of thing!
- What about the devastating impact this has had for people?
- What about long-term health effects for those that have given up one meal a day to pay this wrongly imposed bedroom tax?
- What about those that have felt forced to move out of the family home because of this error?
- What about those that have been evicted for arrears that are not arrears? Is that an eviction by oppression?
- What about those tenants that took landlord (written?) advice to move and were in fact exempt (Lawyers ears prick up!?)
Now we start to scratch under the surface of gravity of this DWP cock up and we see so so many issues, being forced to give up your home, your family home and all because of a DWP cock up! It’s right you see the lack of DWP contrition in those contexts irrespective of how the coalition want to play this down by saying this will affect “a small number of claimants.”
And on that issue just how the hell do they know this will only affect a small number? Yes you’ve guessed it reader, the DWP don’t have a clue and are pissing in the wind.
I disagree and put out a post here which estimated with some conservative assumptions that this could affect 100,000 men women and children on the same ‘narrow’ reading of the regulations (see below). I don’t call that small reader do you? More on this below.
DWP’s ‘narrow’ view and does it affect more?
The DWP at paragraph 3 restate the wording of the regulation in lay terms when they say it has to be the same property: –
“…save for any period where a fire, flood, explosion or natural catastrophe has rendered the property uninhabitable.”
This is a very ‘narrow’ and literal reading of the regulations.
Yet what if a tenant has been forced (felt compelled) to move or the property has become uninhabitable for any other reason? I suggest a very strong argument can be made that this doesn’t just apply to a force majeure of Act of God event such as fire or flood.
Simply the argument goes it cannot have been the intention to exclude for example women fleeing domestic violence which is a circumstance beyond their control. We see bedroom tax appeal judges widening the regulatory interpretation to include separate bedrooms for partners of disabled persons for example in Glasgow and Hereford and correctly not taking a very ‘narrow’ view of what the regulations mean.
A narrow view would also exclude cases where tenants have been decanted due to demolition or housing market renewal or any other circumstance where the property becomes uninhabitable or no longer available. Yet these situations are also outside the control of the tenant who when the regulation is literally read or read in DWP shorthand as here loses protection and I can see a huge number of appeals being launched by tenants who have been decanted or who have had to flee violence.
It cannot have been the intention of the regulations to penalise women fleeing domestic violence and a case of if you flee you lose your protected rights. Yet that is, literally read, what these regulations say, and how the DWP want it to be read and kept to. So IDS and DWP wants women suffering domestic violence to lose their HB protection or stay and keep protection and carry on getting a good kicking then? Yes this is a huge issue DWP is seeking to deflect
Similarly, if your property became uninhabitable as it was being demolished then can it be right that a tenant in that situation loses protection? Of course not! I can see a huge number of appeals on these two grounds and rightly.
Some early comments on the entire pre-1996 issue really make me angry too. In looking at the practicalities of how much additional work this makes for LA officers in HB departments and bemoaning that their systems don’t go back that far and that the ordinary day-to-day work of HB will come first rather than investigating the pre-1996 cases I have no sympathy whatsoever. If the same had not cocked up in the first place then you wouldn’t have these problems!!
If you are a HB officer or other local government worker just think of the poor sods who have lost their family home because of this cock up you made and if I (and others) have been like a red rag to a bull on this pre-1996 issue just wait and see what I will do if you come up with not changing the decisions as you don’t have the evidence to ‘satisfy’ your smug and incompetent selves with! Shall I start with LB Wandsworth who said the bedroom tax wiped out all previous HB regulations? (And yes they even put that in writing!!!) Or how about Waveney council who said this only applies to private sector cases and put that in writing too!!! I’ve held off naming names to date but no longer if jumped-up jobsworths in LAs don’t investigate this properly, and I mean individual names of individual officers too not just the names of the councils.
Some housing professionals are taking the DWP view hook, line and sinker that they will change the regulations. Yet while the DWP make clear they want to the question of whether they will or indeed can has seen some debate with a few reasoned comments suggesting this won’t happen until Universal Credit comes in, if it ever does!.
The same housing professionals are ready to take the DWP view that this affects a ‘small’ number too and they really do need to stop and think. The ‘oh it’s going to be changed anyway’ adoption by landlords merely discourages tenants from getting a correct decision and one that will benefit landlords as the arrears issues go away. Landlords need to be encouraging tenants to ask for their cases to be reviewed and need to be helping tenants on this pre-1996 issue and not discouraging them. Will landlords ever learn I ask myself or is this just symptomatic of how social landlords are so out of touch with tenant issues?
I took a tribunal case just before Christmas which had to be adjourned because I raised the pre-1996 issue and the tenant was also one who had succeeded to the tenancy after 1996. This was the first time the argument had been raised and so the judge rightly adjourned this so the council could investigate. I spoke last week to the council officer in the case and the current HB system goes back only to 2005. The previous or legacy system goes back to 1998. Yet the council needs to go back to 1996 and before. (Note the above all factual but ongoing case so no further detail yet.)
I would suggest almost every council is in the same position of not (necessarily) having systems that go back to pre-1996 and I can fully understand that nobody thought such records would ever be needed, but they are. I also know that one of the 11 areas the Local Government Ombudsman has for maladministration is failure to keep adequate records! While I accept that nobody thought such records would be needed the fact remains that if local councils don’t have them then they are exposed to a maladministration case!
The U1 at paragraphs 6 and 7 sees the DWP attempting to steer local councils to ensure they are ‘satisfied’ before overturning the bedroom tax decisions and pay the money back. It’s a thinly-veiled DWP get out of jail card in other words.
Yet, at the other extreme Exeter City Council took a mere few days to make a review and pay back the bedroom tax to the first tenant there and it now seems to a further reported 50 or so tenants in Exeter with a pre-1996 case have or will be paid back. Exeter had 624 bedroom tax cases and so 50 pre-1996 cases amounts to about 8% – that’s not a small number is it reader?
Extrapolated on the 523,000 households the latest DWP HB figures say have had the bedroom tax imposed means 41,840 households across the country. As a household typically has 2.4 people in it then my 100,000 men women and children affected estimate is not a bad estimate at all is it?
Still think it’s a small number DWP?
Of course Exeter like all councils is unlikely to agree at review to allowing this for DV or decant cases I mention above. That is likely to have to be argued at appeal and there is in my view a strong chance of success on those arguments as they both meet the ‘underlying premise’ of the move being forced and out of the tenant’s control.
So, in summary at this point, why do so-called ‘professionals’ merely believe the DWP view that this only affects a small number of households? Why do they not think before adopting that ridiculous assertion? Why do they not realise that DWP has an agenda to limit its political embarrassment by saying it’s a small number and in not apologising and in seeking to steer LA’s with their get out of jail card? For once, I do wish those who should know better would stop and think!
If you are affected by the pre-1996 issue and you have stuck to your guns then that smile on your face today is well deserved. Personally I know a number of people who will get not just the bedroom tax back, but their life back after this admission from the DWP that they cocked up. They can reclaim their lives.
I have seen at first hand every week what the bedroom tax imposition means by attending my local grassroots group Reclaim and seen individual tenants walk 7 miles to get some advice from this dedicated group of people as not only did they not have bus fare they had no food and no gas or electricity. I have seen 59 and 60 year old woman who have been sanctioned as well as be bedroom tax affected. I have seen so many issues and heard and seen so many tales of fact that would make anyone’s toes curl.
Tenants can fit into two distinct groups – those that are resigned to the bedroom tax and think they can do nothing about it. This is not surprising given that social landlords have – with some honorable exceptions – given them absolutely bugger all in terms of support or encouragement or even the knowledge they have a right to appeal and fight this pernicious and back of a fag packet policy! Shame on you!
Then there are those tenants who fight and have fought day in and day out. I have met some incredibly brave and feisty tenants who like me have been looking at every (legal) way to challenge it and their dedication to that fight keeps me and many others going. This decision will put real fire back in their bellies and will do for those tenants who thought they had no hope too.
This admission by the DWP that they cocked up is welcome. Doubtless this issue will run and run as some local councils will not investigate this fully and I will be drafting many more blogs on the pre-1996 and other bedroom tax issues. So I will leave it there and finally just thank a number of people.
- I thank the unknown bedroom tax tribunal judge who first saw this issue
- I thank Peter Barker (aka HB Anorak) who first brought this issue to wider attention (www.hbanorak.co.uk) who rightfully fits the title of ‘expert’ when it comes to Housing Benefit matters
- I thank Paul Langley at CHC who alerted me late last night to the U1 HB circular and check out www.yourbenefitsarechanging.co.uk which is an excellent resource
I thank the many scores of people that I cannot mention for their job reasons who have sent me information on this and other bedroom tax issues by email and other means. You know who you are.
I thank the ordinary tenant some of whom are bedroom tax affected and others not who tirelessly research and give up their time to fight the bedroom tax in all its forms and post daily on social media sites and elsewhere.
There are far too many blogs similar to this that tirelessly work to find ways to challenge the bedroom tax and wider welfare reforms. Again you know who you are and keep going.
I also thank some social housing professionals and some social landlords (albeit far too few) who have fought the bedroom tax from day one. Again they know who they are. (And as I draft this some landlords are sending me numbers of their tenants they have identified already and they are more than the 8% I mention in Exeter!!)
I DONT THANK the DWP and every LA who cocked this up and imposed this tax on 100,000+ men, women and children.
I DONT THANK the editors of the Sunday papers (yes plural) who were offered this story by freelance journalists last week and turned it down. What a scoop you missed there eh!
Lastly I thank my friends at the many grassroots groups local to me in Merseyside and the North who often invite me to speak at their meetings and have to listen to me ramble on!! (Have you no sense!!)
I of course extend those thanks to many similar groups I have met nationally and this really is a collective effort.
And my thanks especially go to Reclaim who have been collecting numbers of pre-1996 cases from across the country via their email firstname.lastname@example.org and those numbers are accumulating daily. A more dedicated and inspiring bunch of people you will not meet and my local group that I attend each week and they have helped over 500 tenants since March this year and all out of their own pocket.
Some enlightened landlords are now approaching them offering funding as they finally see the tenant interest Reclaim have always worked in, is in social landlord’s best and same interest. Yes that’s a head up to landlords for if I have to start haranguing you for funding for them as Reclaim has something ….that you should have ….but lost with your stance in the bedroom tax …..and badly need to regain….the trust of the tenant.