In March 2013 just before the bedroom tax began I drafted a standard template letter that asked councils to state how they defined ‘bedroom’ as at the heart of the bedroom tax policy this is what councils have to do, decide what a bedroom is.
Then they have to decide if the tenant has too many bedrooms (however defined) and then apply the bedroom tax which is a deduction of housing benefit if the tenant has too many ‘bedrooms.’
Without a definition of bedroom that process of deciding was a sham and all decisions were a highly subjective piece of guesswork by local councils who are I remind the ONLY decision makers as the bedroom tax decision has absolutely nothing at all to do with the landlord.
When in late 2012 landlords did submit their views on how many bedrooms a property has it was still 100% up to the local council as decision maker for the bedroom tax to choose to believe those landlord views, as that is all they were and remain, the view of a third party to the HB decision which is between the tenant as claimant and the council as the sole decision maker.
Councils universally chose to believe the word of the landlord as (a) it was the cheapest option and (b) because no legal definition of a bedroom existed.
In fact ALL councils that responded to my original template letter from March 2013 said we dont have to define a bedroom at all and don’t have to consider what a bedroom is…Yet now
WE DO HAVE A DEFINITION OF BEDROOM AND FROM THE UPPER TRIBUNAL AND THE PROVERBIAL IS ABOUT TO HIT THE BEDROOM TAX FAN AS COUNCILS DO HAVE TO CONSIDER THIS!
The Bolton case has decided that ‘bedroom’ has it ordinary English language meaning of in simple but correct terms “a room used for or furnished as a bedroom.”
If your allegedly ‘spare’ room is not used for or furnished as a bedroom it is not a bedroom is a simple and correct way to view it and that is what the Bolton Upper Tribunal ruling means.
Your local council has to determine the bedroom tax deduction with this definition of ‘bedroom’ in mind and cannot ignore this UT decision.
Yet how the hell can your council know your spare room is used as or furnished as a bedroom?
It simply can’t and the ONLY way it can know is to come out and inspect each and every property. Of course your council will not do this as it will cost an absolute fortune and so the question becomes can councils even make a bedroom tax decision at all for 2014/15?
How can a council make a legally reliable decision as to the bedroom tax if they don’t know what your ‘spare’ room is used for? Is a room used as a study or computer room just a necessary part of ordinary living now for adults or for children doing homework? Yes it is and the room is not even spare but a necessity of modern living. What if you work from home is an office/study necessary or even a sewing room if you are a seamstress?
So how can your council determine in 2014/15 what they did last year, namely that if a room could be used as a bedroom then it is a bedroom. That is what they did in the absence of a definition.
Yet now we have a authoritative guide that a room used as or furnished as a bedroom is a bedroom BUT if the room is not used as or furnished as a bedroom then it is not a bedroom and just a mere room!
The bedroom tax can ONLY be applied to a bedroom and not to a mere room (and reveals that “Spare Room Subsidy” is and always was a misnomer.)
Your local council cannot get away with this nonsense and legal fiction this year that just because it COULD be a bedroom then it IS a bedroom (and note even that farcical sham for 2013/14 took no account of room size or any other issue!)
What we have here is fact and individual fact in each individual case and just as that should have been the case for 2013/14 decisions then it HAS TO BE the case for 2014/15 bedroom tax decisions and in every single one of them too.
Below I have drafted a revised standard letter you can use for the 2014/15 bedroom tax decisions and potentially to ask your council to reconsider their current 2013/14 bedroom tax decisions.
Note that you have 13 months to appeal the original decisions which were made in March 2013 to take effect from April 2013 so the current bedroom tax decisions can be appealed at least until the end of March 2014.
This year I expect a huge increase in reviews and appeals of the bedroom tax decisions partly because of the successes appeals have had on easily recognisable grounds such as room size, but mostly because this Bolton UT ruling should see the tenant asking a simple question… How do the council KNOW what my rooms are used for or furnished as?
If you thought reader that room size has been a big bedroom tax issue or the pre 1996 exempt cock up when tens of thousands have had the bedroom tax unlawfully imposed, then you aint seen nothing yet!
The bedroom tax room usage issue will be so much bigger.
One final thought and addressed to social landlords. Whenever a bedroom tax appeal is won by a tenant, the arrears reduce and your rent stays the same. You, the landlord, win. So why the hell are you not actively supporting your tenants to appeal? You have no reason not to and it is in your best business and financial interests to support your tenants to appeal.
Note this standard letter letter is below and when printed boxes should print to enable you to inform your council of the number and usage of each room type.It can be downloaded here
STANDARD TEMPLATE LETTER – asking for more information and a review
HB ref number
(insert you name, address and postcode here)
In light of the Upper Tribunal case in Bolton referenced CH0140/2013 which determined a bedroom for Housing Benefit purposes at paragraph 19 please provide review / reconsider your decision in light of this and provide by return:
- A copy of the council’s written policy that includes a definition of a bedroom.
- Failing that a copy of the councils informal or working definition of what is a bedroom for under occupation / bedroom tax purposes.
- A copy of the council’s written policy which states how it makes a bedroom tax decision in accordance with HB regulations and UT binding decisions.
The UT definition states ‘bedroom’ is a room that is used or furnished as a bedroom.
- Please advise how you know a room or rooms in my property is/are used as or furnished as a bedroom or bedrooms?
My property has ¨ rooms in total and a breakdown of their uses is as below
Living Rooms ¨ Dining Rooms ¨ Kitchens ¨
Bathrooms ¨ Bedrooms ¨ Other ¨
UPDATE – Reclaim campaign pack here which includes standard template letters for room usage, pre 1996 exemption and parliamentary ombudsman complaint against DWP and much more is here