On Friday I posted that an Upper Tribunal decision says a bedroom for bedroom tax purposes has a minimum overall dimension or size 65.81 square feet. I received a comment on this from “skinttenant” to say a room they were being charged rent for by an unnamed housing associations measured just 24.19 square feet which I drafted as a further quick blog here.
I ended that with a challenge which said do you have a boxroom on which you are being charged rent and/or bedroom tax and I left an email address. Within an hour an email arrives from a tenant of Sanctuary Housing in the South West to say they are being charged rent and bedroom tax for a room which measures 7 feet in length with a width of 5 feet 1 inches – a total dimension of 35.58 sq/ft.
Below is a picture of that “room” and one of many the tenant sent me and including pictures of the room being measured so I am certain the room does indeed measure 84 x 61 inches.
In order to be a bedroom a room firstly has to be a room (and if that sounds stupid go back and look at the Janet Bell case here.) A room is an enclosed space with a door. Yet this room is not a bed-room as
- it cannot fit a standard sized single bed and close the door, and
- because of that this room has no privacy which is an essential element of a bedroom under the Nelson criteria at 31(e) and access at 31(b) and at 64(v)
A standard sized single bed as in the picture measures 78.75 inches in length by 35.75 inches in width a bed can only fit lengthways as the width of the “room” is only 61 inches. The gap left after putting in a bed measuring 78.75 inches into a space of 84 inches leaves just 5.25 inches and when you look at the picture below it reveals if the bed was this 5.25 inches further forward and abutting the back wall the door still would not close.
The size, configuration and overall dimension means this room will win hands down when it goes to a bedroom tax tribunal and frankly the council (Torbay) would be stupid to let it go to tribunal and instead should decide that the property has just 2 bedrooms and not the 3 bedrooms the landlord – Sanctuary Housing – say it has.
What is also extremely interesting in this ex council property is that the tenant who moved in 6 years ago is friendly with a neighbour who was the first tenant on this estate and her property is exactly the same layout… and her original tenancy agreement from the council describes the property as being 2 bedrooms plus a boxroom!
This means that when Sanctuary took over they changed the description to be 3 bedrooms as someone in Sanctuary Housing Association believes such a room is a bedroom and should attract extra rent!
A room under any definition of room is a space that is enclosed by walls and by a door. Yet this space is by definition not a bed-room so how can the landlord Sanctuary Housing be allowed to charge rent on that room as if it is a bedroom?
That Is a question I am openly putting here to its Chief Executive, David Bennett. He will surely have the answer to how his company and housing association with around 100,000 properties making it the largest housing association and largest social (ahem!) landlord in the country as he must be an incredibly talented man.
He must be an incredibly talented and worthy man as his salary in 2012/13 was according to Inside Housing £308,218 that year. Any man, or woman for that matter, who earns twice the salary of the Prime Minister (yes that old chestnut the media so love when applied to charities such as Housing Associations) must be a supremely talented person.
Surely David Bennett of Sanctuary Housing can tell us all how his charity can charge a ‘customer’ for a bedroom when that alleged bedroom cannot possibly even be a room never mind a bedroom? Wouldn’t that be in breach of Trades Descriptions Act or Sale of Goods Act or any other law which says you can’t call a product a silk purse when it is a sow’s ear? This is chronic misrepresentation surely David Bennett?
I would also like to ask David Bennett of Sanctuary Housing THE largest social landlord in the country and one of THE largest charities in the country how can Sanctuary charge a rent for this property that is set at the affordable (sic) rent level in this area when it was tenanted by the current tenant for over 18 months BEFORE the affordable homes programme began?
In number terms David Bennett Chief Executive of Sanctuary Housing why are you charging the tenant £23.45 per week or £1,220 per year more than your average 2 bed social rent level in this local council area and a rent that is bang on the average of a 3 bed property for your stock there at the affordable rent level?
David Bennett Chief Executive of Sanctuary Housing do you realise it only takes this level of overcharging on just 253 Sanctuary Housing properties per year to pay your 2012/13 salary of £308,218?
David Bennett of Sanctuary Housing will probably not respond reader I would imagine. Yet if he did I would then ask him was he aware that the tenant has asked David Bennett’s Sanctuary Housing staff to reclassify this property as a two bed not a three bed. Sanctuary Housing has of course refused to do this.
All of the above took me about 90 minutes to research and draft the article here and what I discovered in that tiny amount of time can see one housing association lose its reputation it has built up over decades in about the same time it takes to play a football match.
This could be one isolated incident or conversely it could be standard practice of a so-called ‘social’ landlord yet there is clear misrepresentation here in Sanctuary claiming the room is a bed-room when it cannot be; and that someone from Sanctuary has decided to change the original tenancy description so they can squeeze more rent out of the property and charge a rent based on a 3 bedroom basis when this room cannot possibly be 3 bedrooms and only 2.
Quite how the actual rent charged which does equate to a 3 bed rent on the affordable rent basis when the tenant moved in BEFORE the AR model became possible is another matter entirely!
In bedroom tax terms we see and read so many First-tier judges say if you sleep in a room then it is a bedroom, which is a legal fiction as the above picture reveals. We see local councils who are the only decision makers saying your landlord says it is a 3 bed therefore it is. We see the same local councils saying you signed for a 3 bed its a 3 bed and that is also often stated as in this case by the social landlord to the tenant too.
In short we see the rent setting of social landlords being very amiss and in this case misrepresentation. We also see in this case the legal fictions and disgraceful practices of social (ahem) landlords with regard to the bedroom tax and similar outrageous practices of local councils as the decision makers in the bedroom tax who CHOOSE to believe the word of a landlord because it it cheaper to do that rather than make a lawful decision, which Nelson dictates they have to do.
We further see First-tier Tribunal judges acting outrageously with some incredibly lazy reasoning and repeated errors of law. There is also lazy reasoning in the Nelson decision itself at 54(ii) when it quotes Lord Freud as saying the reason why no definition of bedroom was given was that it for landlords it “…might involve them having to measure every room.”
Aside from the fact that what is or is not a bedroom for bedroom tax purposes is NOT up to the landlord but up to the local councils HB department as the sole decision maker and so it would involve these council decision makers needing to measure but not landlords, and that landlords are NOT a party to any claim in HB regulation which is between the tenant and the council HB department, just what is wrong in ensuring that social landlords do not charge the tenant AND the state in housing benefit terms for a room that could not possibly be a bed-room?
The perversity is that Nelson allows landlords to overcharge the tenant AND overcharge the public purse in Housing Benefit by charging for rooms that cannot possibly be bed-rooms!
The added perversity is that Nelson contradicts itself by saying that if a claimant disputes the number of bedrooms that the landlord claims the property has and on which the local council has based its decision, then it is up to the councils to go out and view and measure those disputed rooms not the landlord.
It is time that every tenant appealed the bedroom tax and when they receive notification of the tribunal date that they ask for a direction from the First-tier Tribunal that demands the council goes out to view and measure each claimed bedroom as Nelson says they must do at  and such a direction is within the powers of a FtT.
We have a scandalous situation in that tens if not hundreds of thousands of vulnerable tenants have been unlawfully charged the bedroom tax on rooms that are not Nelson criteria bedrooms and those tenants have no way of getting back this money they have been underpaid.
The case above in one simple picture proves that they can say a thousand words!