Landlords need to rethink the bedroom tax…sorry that assumes they think in the first place!

Just over a year ago I started writing in depth about the bedroom tax and a big part of that was to get tenants to appeal the bedroom tax decisions they received.  Social landlords did not like this appeal approach in the main, a tiny minority did, and illogically social landlords feared they would somehow lose money over this when in fact the complete opposite is true.

Has anyone seen or read a successful bedroom tax appeal where (a) the rent has reduced or (b) the HB has not increased?

No you haven’t as it doesn’t happen.  In many cases we have seen the landlord designated 3 bed property which councils in their expediency chose to accept be deemed a 2 bed property and in some even a 1 bed property.  Has the rent level reduced there? NO.  Has the landlord now received MORE in HB because of the successful appeals? YES!

So that begs three questions to address.

  • Firstly why are landlords still reluctant to advise tenants to appeal?
  • Secondly why the hell are they looking at reclassifying properties?
  • Thirdly, why the hell are landlords not advocating and supporting tenants to appeal?

If a tenant is successful at appeal the landlord gets more in Housing Benefit, its that simple.

If ever there is an example of how social landlords did not think the bedroom tax its that.  Landlords always benefit from successful appeals as does the tenant of course.  So what provider wouldn’t want to be on and be seen to be on the side of their customers?  again another example of a complete lack of thought and any semblance of good business practice.

Social landlords thought – for what reason God only knows – that if a property was ruled to have 2 and not 3 bedrooms that they would lose money yet that was never the case in any reality but still this bizarre and illogical notion persisted.

Just how did social landlords move from reading barrister opinions to say room size issues could not be ‘read across’ from the 1985 Housing Act in HB regulations to mean if a property at appeal is deemed a 2 bed not a 3 that they would lose money as the rent level would fall?  I can understand landlords believing a barristers opinion or even the CIH opinion that room size would NOT play a part but why did social landlords jump from this to we will lose money?  Its a total lack of thinking and a huge knowledge deficit in terms of HB regulations and councils powers within them that only allow a rent restriction IF the rent is unreasonably high.

But as we have seen the rent level difference nationally between a 3 bed and a 2 bed is £5.97 per week.  So a two bed plus boxroom is not worth £5.97 more per week than a straight 2 bed?  Again just another obvious example of a lack of thinking.  Moreover any social landlord in any area of the UK can look at the local choiced based lettings system and find 3 bed rents which are less than a 2 bed rent…and in the case of Liverpool two properties in the same street!!  So how would an appeal stating a property had one less room result in a rent reduction or a HB reduction?  Again the lack of thinking is there for all to see.

Reclassifying?  Just how bloody stupid is that idea!

If a landlord does reclassify down are they admitting that they have been overcharging all these years and leave themselves exposed to legal actions? Yes from both the tenant in the reclassifed properties but also from the council as the total of all these reclassification could see social landlords a the biggest benefit fraudsters in history!  Anyone still see reclassification as evidence of thought?

Yet such is the clamour for reclassification that (a) many landlords are still incurring cost sending outs staff to look at whether a bed would fit into an alleged bedroom, and (b) some councils such as Liverpool are flatly refusing to change any decision “unless the landlord reclassifies.”  Talk about landlords shooting themselves in the foot and especially since they have this other truly bizarre notion that the bedroom tax decision is anything at all to do with them.

The bedroom tax decision is an HB decision and HB is between the claimant who is the tenant and the council as decision maker.  It has absolutely nothing at all to do with the landlord and never has had even before April 2013.  The responsibility to claim HB has always been the claimants and not the landlord (supported housing excepted) and how many times have rent officers said to tenants in the past that it is THEIR responsibility to claim HB and not the landlords responsibility?  Try 100% of rent officers, housing officers, arrears officers or income officers as HO’s have now become!

In November and December2013 I delivered a series of bedroom tax appeal workshops and on each day at least one frontline ‘welfare officer’ from social landlords came up to me and said I didn’t realise a tenant could appeal the bedroom tax!  Hardly surprising that landlords were against appealing if their frontline staff did not even know the tenant COULD appeal!  The fact that every HB decision notice which landlords will invariably get HAVE to outline the rights of appeal on that notice and housing staff must have looked at thousands of these….

Let’s draw a line in the sand and adopt a lesson learned approach? (How many times does that phrase get trotted out to belittle a cock up?  IDS take note!!)

Which brings me on to the latest hot issue – the pre 1996 exemptions.  Social landlords are falling over themselves trawling through arrears systems to find as many exempt tenants as possible – and some poor sods are having to trawl through archived paper files or the old tambours collecting dust in basements trying to find these tenants – as it is very much in social landlords interests to find as many exempt tenants as possible.

Isn’t it strange when this is the same issue as a tenant appeal – the landlord wins out financially if they do – yet appealing a bedroom tax decision is somehow wrong and the landlord thinks they will lose out!!

Lack of thought anyone?

Here is where a lessons learned approach really kicks in.  In March 2014 some 5 weeks or so from today all tenants, and at the last official figure 523,000 or so, will receive their 2014/15 bedroom tax decisions.  With all the successful first tier tribunal appeals and an upper tier one of huge significance just announce on room usage last week, landlords should be bending over backwards advising tenants to appeal, appeal and appeal.

I say again it is in social landlords best interest to get as many tenants appealing the bedroom tax as possible as the landlord benefits financially from this.

Do I expect my phone to be ringing off the hook and my PC screen to be full of ‘red inked’ email requests for training and workshops? Surely that would assume social landlords think….

6 thoughts on “Landlords need to rethink the bedroom tax…sorry that assumes they think in the first place!

  1. Another excellent post Joe. Now if landlords think then they would learn from there mistakes and stop repeating them!

    About training some stubborn landlords, social skill training may be required and a few applied behaviour analysis techniques be need to be used, also Barbara Woodhouse might influence your training style. 😉

  2. Riverside are sending out court dates for eviction despite tenants having dates for appeals and most a very good chance of winning. What happens to those who win their hb appeal but have already been evicted?

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