An article appeared in the Liverpool Echo this Tuesday night about ReClaim a grassroots group in Merseyside who have taken 50 bedroom tax appeals and won 36 – a success rate of an impressive 72%.
ReClaim have arguably saved social landlords the best part of half a million pounds a year yet haven’t received a penny off them in funding. It’s time social landlords addressed that and I outline all of this below.
Firstly, there are only figures for all Housing Benefit appeals to compare with in previous years and these show a success rate of 17% historically so while it can’t be a like-for-like comparison ReClaim’s success rate is more than 4 times that of the normal HB appeals success rate. it also is very revealing that judges realise the policy is back of fag packet nonsense too!
Secondly, ReClaim is only one of these such groups in and around Merseyside and others have broadly similar success rates such as FACE (6 out of 8 or 75%) which is run by one of the first tenants whose bedroom tax case I won and she wanted to help others and has recently started doing. Other groups in and around Merseyside have success rates of 50% or more but that still is 3 times the average of 17% and impressive too.
The key to these success rates is the written arguments submitted to the Tribunals ahead of the hearings. These are very detailed and persuasive as to why the term ‘bedroom’ has to have a size dimension and as to usage of a room and to procedural aspects such as the legal fictions LAs come up with such as a bedroom is “up to the landlord” when the landlord is not even a party to HB decisions.
I drafted most of these arguments after extensive research with those in ReClaim, FACE, South Wirral against the Bedroom Tax and others and let me state for the avoidance of any doubt that these arguments still have to be argued orally at Tribunal and that is an art all in itself: – something these groups just don’t see how good they are at doing! Many if not all have never set foot in a tribunal or court before the bedroom tax yet now are old hands and well versed at doing so.
Further is that all of the groups in Merseyside tend to share each new subtle nuance that tribunal judges come up with and each new objection they and presenting officers bring up and healthy analysis is made of these to revise these written submissions. This is a cause not of political notions of right and left, but basic humanity of right and wrong.
I also get bedroom tax decisions and statement of reasons sent to me almost daily from right across the country and I now have over 130 winning decisions most of which I publish and disseminate, and again filter into revised arguments. I also get sent dozens of requests from tenants for help in appealing every week and here is where I will now focus as outside of these grassroots groups there is next to nobody to help the bedroom tax tenant.
The majority of CABx do not take bedroom tax appeals, there are very few welfare rights centres that do, there is no legal aid available at least for First-tier Tribunal appeals and even national housing lobbies such as Shelter et al tend not to take appeals. Each appeal is incredibly labour intensive yet there is bugger all out there in terms of help for the bedroom tax household who has been shafted by unlawful and sham decision-making by local councils who in turn were dropped in this position by irrational guidance from this coalition.
So why haven’t social landlords, aside from the few very honourable exceptions, supported their tenants to appeal?
They were wrongly led to believe and primarily by the CIH that the bedroom tax appeal would see their rent level fall, their asset value fall and create problems with their charitable status and that they would not work. Look again at the scurrilous and errant comments the CIH made back in April 2013 against me and others who advocated the appeal route and I said, quite correctly, that every case had legitimate grounds to appeal. Such appeals will be grouped together and dismissed en masse said CIH who clearly didn’t know every tenant has an absolute right to an individual oral hearing! Yes that the same CIH whose strapline is, I kid you not, “brilliant!”
The tribunal appeal route has also been so much more successful than generic cases taken direct to the senior courts by way of judicial review as MA & Ors reveals. However the real issue and fact is that when a tenant wins a bedroom tax appeal which they take on their individual facts the landlord (a) keeps the same rent level; (b) the future HB payment increase to the landlord; (c) a large HB backpayment is received by the landlord, and; (d) the asset value of the landlords property stays the same.
Let’s return to apply the ReClaim figures to a social landlord and this exposes just how naive, wrong and stupid social landlords have been in not supporting these groups to support ‘their’ tenants to appeal the pernicious bedroom tax.
In Liverpool the average yearly bedroom tax deduction is £752 per year and in neighbouring Sefton it is £810 per year so the midpoint is very similar to the national £777 bedroom tax cut (£14.90 per week.) So if ReClaim had taken these 50 cases for a landlord that landlord would have seen a return of 36 lots of £777 or about £28,000.
It makes obvious financial sense for any landlord to engage the likes of ReClaim and pay them say £140 per appeal, a total of £7,000 and get back £28,000 in return. That’s an initial £4 return for each £1 invested. Yet that barely scratches the surface of what these groups do in terms of landlord finances.
ReClaims figures, and I have theirs and others data, also show across Merseyside over 200 cases where they have successfully got councils to revise their bedroom tax decisions and include a bedroom for the overnight carers in place and other such exemptions. That’s a further £155,000 they have saved tenants…and of course social landlords.
They have also helped tenants ahead of eviction cases and secured at least double that in backdated Housing Benefit in these cases and prevented evictions – something landlords and councils did not. What they do here is far more than social landlord welfare terms can probably afford to do as they take on every case however complicated these cases are. They do not cream off easy cases. When, by comparison, landlord welfare teams simply do not have the resources to take these complex and time consuming cases. Often the tenant walks through the surgery door with a bedroom tax issue in mind yet it soon emerges there is an ESA or DLA issue and many other benefit issues.
What has surprised the hell out of me despite spending most of my 20+ years in supported housing is the level of unsupported mental health needs amongst the general needs social tenants and so many other physical health issues as well as literacy problems too. It beggars belief as to the scale of support needs that exist in social housing that are on nobody’s radar and are left unsupported. The demise of SP which never met such needs even it its highest level in 2003 is readily apparent.
Of course the ReClaims and FACE and other grassroots groups have also managed to achieve tens and hundreds of thousands of DHPs for their clients, the poor and shafted tenant. Yet they could give social landlords a huge financial boost, so much more than all of the above combined, if they were funded.
So many tenants are angry with social landlords and blame them (rightly or wrongly) for being complicit in the bedroom tax and judgement day is coming with the direct payment of housing benefit to tenants. While tenants were always going to de-prioritise the payment of rent at Christmas the tenant anger at landlords being perceived as complicit in the bedroom tax and not standing four-square behind them will manifest in less rent being paid and considerably less.
In scores of private conversations I have had with CEOs and housing directors over the past two years they all acknowledge that welfare reform has directly put a wedge between the landlord and tenant and while publicly they can’t say that they know this will manifest hugely when direct payments comes in.
The direct payment pilots revealed 6.6% of rent to social landlords went unpaid when now when HB is paid direct to social landlords about 0.5% of rent goes uncollected. Social landlords can survive on this 0.5% going unpaid indeed they expect and plan for it. Yet 6.6% and its time for social landlords to pack up and go home. They will go bust if that happens and, again anecdotally, so many housing professionals are not expecting this Tory government to be voted out next May when perhaps 6 months ago they were. I have lost count of the number of times the old adage of plan for the worst but hope for the best has been said to me recently!
Yet landlords funding groups such as ReClaim and FACE and many others to support tenants to appeal will change that tenant perception and see far more rent being paid. When you quantify that the figures blow the mind. A social landlord with 10,000 properties will have a £50m turnover. The half of one per cent rent expected to go unpaid equates to £250,000 per year yet a 6.6% unpaid rent figure is £3.3 million and more than £3m per year more. If just 10% of tenants are persuaded to prioritise rent through such a PR scheme as supporting tenants to appeal that’s a £300k per year financial return for this PR.
This is the sort of PR scheme that puts the social into social housing and restores the pre welfare reform position of good landlord tenant relations before the bedroom tax and other welfare reforms drove a wedge between that relationship. Again, privately, housing CEOs and directors admit this but can’t say it publicly.
Social landlords are fond of saying they support tenants and involve tenants and there is no doubt tenants want to appeal the hated bedroom tax. It is time ideas such as this are looked at for the no brainer that they are and as we all know actions speak louder than words.
It is precisely these ‘touchy-feely’ intangible ideas that social landlords will have to consider now and ahead of when the direct payment of housing benefit goes to the tenant and they take control of the payment of rent and become the ‘customer’ that too many social landlords now errantly refer to them as. Pity the digitally fixated landlord cant get a licence for those drones which don’t have the technology on them to take the pulse of the social tenant! To them there’s and increasingly important reason why the ‘sector’ you are in is called SOCIAL housing!
The enlightened social landlord is already considering them and the most enlightened have started to fund and engage support to meet their tenants will. This tenants champion model avoids any notion of the landlord being perceived as indulging in politics and is often the final hurdle that persuades the landlord to fund; the arguments over they keep the rent level and get more ongoing HB, the backpayment and no asset value loss are now accepted.
The economics of supporting the tenants will by funding are clearly set out above and stack up financially on even the simplest basis. Yet the real boon will come to those landlords when ‘their’ tenants do become customers and take control over rent payments that now account for two-thirds of their income in housing benefit. Then those tenants will use the same possessive pronoun that landlords wrongly use and tenants will perceive THEIR landlord as one who supported them and one in which they can trust…again!
Similar groups exist albeit in far smaller numbers across the country than Merseyside (which accounts for more than 50% of all bedroom tax appeal wins nationally) and tenants and housing staff can be trained in taking appeals by these grassroots groups above and supported and represented by them subject to being funded.
Here is ReClaims data