Yesterday I was speaking at a conference hosted by an innovative social landlord in the North East in Coast & Country Housing Association. CC tenants and tenants and landlords from another dozen or so landlords across the North East were there to launch their bedroom tax appeal pack replete with simple – as in easy to understand – template letters for different appeal grounds such as room size, usage, need for extra bedrooms for disability purposes etc.
Yes, reader, you read that right – social landlords supporting their tenants to appeal the pernicious bedroom tax and Yes CC to all social landlords across the country as they will begin to do the same and it makes perfect sense for landlords.
On one slide I pointed out the bloody obvious consequences for social landlords that when a tenant wins a bedroom tax appeal two things flow:
The rent level stays the same and the social landlord gets more in HB
Social landlords who have been in diplomatic language “hesitant” to support their tenants appealing the bedroom tax for whatever reasons will now follow this – Yes “follow” is again coded language for pinch the idea and run with it. In business speak adaptive innovation I believe is the terminology
Is there a rooftop big enough from which those two simple outcomes should be shouted?
The rent level stays the same and the social landlord gets more in HB …. when the tenant wins an appeal
Of course that is dependent on tenants WINNING appeals yet unless you have been on a six month sabbatical to Mars the evidence is overwhelming that they are and can and will win bedroom tax appeals.
Eyes wide mouth agog and chins almost hitting the floor was how one described the audience of 90 or so when I discussed the Bolton Upper Tribunal case and its application in Monmouth – the application of the room usage issue of a bedroom defined as a room used and/or furnished as a bedroom.
In the context of national figures revealing 81% of bedroom tax affected households (allegedly) under occupying by one bedroom the penny was dropping reader…. the (alleged) bedroom I am being charged the bedroom tax for that : –
- I use as a dining room as there is no space in the kitchen for…
- The room I have a tables and chairs in that I use for dining and also for my children to do their homework on as there is nowhere else for them to study…
- The room that I use for ANY reasonable purpose….
is NOT a bedroom and I can appeal this! Yes!
Note well that last bullet point – the room that I use for any REASONABLE purpose.
While Monmouth saw an alleged 4 bed property become a 2 bedroom, 1 art room and 1 study property at the successful tribunal I focused on reasonableness and fact, individual fact of what tenants put these rooms to use.
The defining of ‘bedroom’ to have its ordinary everyday meaning gives the tenant a huge opportunity to say to what uses these rooms are put. If the ‘spare room’ or ‘boxroom’ has a table and chairs in which are used for multipurposes such as storage, dining, hosting a computer for children doing homework or even grandchildren doing homework as you pick them up from school and feed them to allow mum to go out to work, or any other factual and reasonable purpose then that room is NOT a bedroom. It is a multipurpose room and one that is used for a wide variety of reasonable uses.
Just because a room COULD BE a bedroom it has had the bedroom tax slapped upon it in the sham decision-making process the bedroom tax had. Yet the courts are saying sorry you are not on and a room is defined by it use and titled that way.
Doesn’t almost everyone have a ‘junk’ room or ‘storage’ room? Whether that is for the harrowing imagery we have seen on TV for the storage or necessary medical and disability equipment for which some very vulnerable tenants are paying a tax for or just for having a dining table and chairs as there is no room for one in the kitchen, it is perfectly reasonable to have such a ‘multipurpose’ room in our properties. That is what such rooms are USED FOR that is how they are FURNISHED.
Given that 4 in every 5 bedroom tax affected tenants are said in this sham process and ill-conceived policy to have one spare room appeals on room usage grounds, reasonable usage grounds as I briefly outline above, could see 80% of bedroom tax impositions ruled out at appeal then landlords should reconsider urgently supporting tenants to appeal as….The rent level stays the same and the social landlord gets more in HB
The bedroom tax appeal kit by Coast & Country is a damn good start and cc to that and provides a lead to all other social landlords to follow and follow quickly.
And it needs funding but that is negligible in the context and does requires some thought by social landlords. Just as the outline explanation above which could see 80% of tenants taken out of the bedroom tax is not rocket science neither is the way forward in funding terms.
The focus of the conversations over lunch with tenants, board members, tenant board members and landlords was how do we appeal and then how do we reach all tenants and eventually, as it inevitably does, came round to how much will this cost and how should it be funded.
How it should be funded and not why; and how we appeal and not why we should appeal; is a significant cultural shift among landlords yet was universal in the conference across all landlords and tenants in the North East and it is incredibly cost-effective yet the previous ‘reticence’ that was apparent of landlords to get involved with supporting appeals (C&C being an honourable exception here) has denied social landlords looking at the why.
If all social landlords had donated £1 for every bedroom tax hit household then a £523k appeal ‘war chest’ would have been created. £523k would have bought and still could buy a national think tank of barristers and consultants and officers to advise every single landlord and tenant and put in a system for all to appeal and challenge the bedroom tax. That equates to 0.0014% of the potential bedroom tax loss or one-seven-hundredth-and twenty-eighth of the yearly average bedroom tax loss of £728.
If 20% was ‘top-sliced’ for advice etc that would still leave over £30k in the North East for the dissemination of that, the foot slogging that tenants will do to help ensure their fellow tenants know about appealing and be given a top-notch selection of written submissions for their appeals. Or leave about £65k in the North West for the same purpose of what would is and would be called a ‘tenants champion’ model.
How much great PR would that be for social landlords and let’s be honest they need it as the bedroom tax has directly created tension between tenant and landlord and mistrust of landlords by tenants. 0.0014%!!
How radical reader? How little cost to social landlords to win back their ‘customers!’ How little cost to reassure tenants that the landlords stand four-square behind them. How much more income landlords will receive back from this and not just in bedroom tax deducted but also whenever direct payment of HB moves to the tenant under Universal Credit.
Or maybe with some honorable exceptions that shows how little landlords know of their tenants and how little thought they have put into harnessing the power their tenants have and are willing to wield to get rid of this hated bedroom tax. Tenants will do the foot slogging of any such ‘campaign’ – which is in inverted commas as campaign sounds too political yet landlords have spent far more than this campaigning themselves and just call it lobbying which is somehow softer and permissible yet ‘campaigning’ is not.
It has been said many times and universally so that the bedroom tax has so many unforeseen consequences and impacts and it undoubtedly has. Yet the biggest one for me is the power that tenants hold and can wield. That is worthy of 20 PhD length theses as tenants do have real power and influence ably supported by social media yet is not recognised…yet.
When I first advocated all tenants should appeal and all had legitimate cause to do so back in August 2012 that didn’t spring from my first degree in politics as the tenant as a new political power force yet that is what my deliberations and 18 month or so sojourn into the bedroom tax has found. The House of Lords and opposition MPs and all the other traditional power sources were waived away with the invoking of financial privilege by this coalition. Anyone who had said to me then that tenants on the bottom rung of any ladder of influence would hold and could wield huge influence I would have rejected that flat out. Yet that is what is and has happened and can happen with devastating effect and in much greater depth and with increasingly regularity.
Landlords hate the bedroom tax and rightly so yet for them it is a business problem. Tenants absolutely despise the bedroom tax because it takes away their right to a home: Their home and their family life, the very core of their world. It is no longer good enough for social landlords to say we hate the bedroom tax too and/or this is central government not us. Landlords need to ACT and be supportive of their tenants in appealing the bedroom tax.
That is not political it is common business sense.
For the absolute avoidance of any doubt I am not saying that Coast & Country are embarking on any political campaign here as they are not and would be at pains to point that out. Yet what C&C have tapped into wittingly or not – that they and the other landlords across the North East have recognised – is that supporting tenants to appeal is the obvious thing to do out of business sense for the landlord AND it harnesses the latent power that 38,000 bedroom tax affected tenant households have in the North East and 523,000 tenant households have nationally.
Social landlords right across the country now need to tap in too. Tenants are seeing the bloody obvious that appealing the bedroom tax is worth it but then many of them did in the first place when many landlords did not. It will be seen as political, it will cause problems for our ‘charitable’ status for that and we will lose rent and our financial backers will be worried if we go down the (absolutely bloody brainless) route of reclassification landlords thought and erroneously thought.
It wont and when tenants succeed at appeal the rent level does not reduce and the landlord gets higher amounts of Housing Benefit and greater income. It doesn’t send scare signals to CML or other landlord funders and it doesn’t reduce landlord asset values (which reclassification does!) It is thinking smartly and acting smartly when landlords support their tenants to appeal…and cc to that!
The conference yesterday was originally scheduled for last year and I have been professionally excited about it since I was first asked to speak at it back in early October. At last the tide is turning and for once I would be able to write something really positive about social landlords in the bedroom tax after criticising them, with much justification, repeatedly. Not only the supporting appeals but proper and purposeful ‘tenant engagement’ and ‘tenant involvement’ – terms which social housing bandies about ad nauseam for decades – but because it is the right thing for landlords to do financially and most important of all it repels the open attack on tenants and the social housing model which is at the core of the bedroom tax.
I have my reservations as to whether social landlords will pick up the mantle and universally support tenants to appeal not because of a lack of will of individuals that work in social housing but because social housing is so slow to change and in cynical terms thinks radical is painting doors red instead of blue in the notoriously conservative world their decision makers inhabit.
Still, I left the conference with high hopes and the thanks of tenants AND landlords and the Coast & Country appeal pack has much to be admired and to build on. On getting home I found three new bedroom tax appeal successes in Liverpool and the Liverpool PJ one in which the tribunal ruled that a dad has the right to a bedroom for his daughter because the bedroom tax policy it was found breaches both of their rights to a family life. That is what the bedroom tax does for every tenant in lay terms and why tenants despise it and rightly so.
Its time for landlords to act and Coast & County and many other social landlords in the North East recognise that and have acted. Its time the rest of the 1200 social landlords wherever they are located across the country who are and have been disparate come together and prove that they can be a ‘sector’ and cc that positive public display of support for their tenants that Coast & Country did yesterday.