Social (sic) Landlords created the bedroom tax mess

Council and housing association landlords were complicit in creating the central mess in the bedroom tax policy of the key question of what is a bedroom? They lobbied government NOT to define what is and what is not a bedroom … so they could continue to charge rent on alleged bedrooms, in reality box rooms or cupboards, that in law the private landlord is not able to charge rent on.

The Nelson Upper Tribunal decision makes this abundantly clear at [54] when it quotes Lord Freud:

” … after discussions [ with various interested entities] we have concluded that most welcome the flexibility that comes with not including in the regulations a definition of what constitutes a bedroom.

Some landlords made it clear that defining this in legislation would introduce a system that might involve them having to measure every room.

So we are leaving it to landlords to specify the size of property, as they are best placed to do that.

We expect the information that they provide to be reflected in the level of rent charged and to match what is agreed in the tenancy agreement.”

The private landlords have their properties assessed by the independent rent officer service to ensure that a room is capable of being a bedroom before it can receive housing benefit.  By contrast the social landlord can say a cupboard is a bedroom and the local councils who administer housing benefit simply believe their word.

The housing benefit system gives the social landlord this positive discrimination (and actively discriminates against the private landlord) and charging rent on a room that is no more than a box room defies the term social in every way possible.  Social landlord practices concerning bedrooms are tantamount to fraud as well as being the epitome of asocial.

Over three years into the bedroom tax we see that children have been evicted and have had their life chances irreparably damaged due to bedroom tax arrears and that too is the epitome of asocial.  Yet the so-called social landlords are still at pains to say the bedroom tax was nothing to do with them, and that as the above reveals is bullshit.

Recently I highlighted a case in Torbay of Sanctuary Housing claiming a room of 35 square feet that could not even fit a standard adult single bed was a bedroom.  They have now changed that decision due to public naming and shaming.  Back in 2013 I highlighted a similar case in Coventry of around 33 square feet from Whitefriars Housing and one of many I highlighted.

I personally know of streets upon streets of former council houses in Liverpool now managed by a housing association in which the alleged third bedrooms are no more than 35 square feet as they include the bulkhead of the stairs and create L-shaped box rooms that are not bedrooms for bedroom tax purposes.  That same issue happens nationally as that is what councils built in the post war era, the ubiquitous (and errantly named) 3 bed 5 person properties.

There are hundreds of thousands of these box rooms right across the country which are wrongly classed as 3 bed properties and on which rent has been charged as if they were bedrooms and on which Housing Benefit has wrongly been paid and which the bedroom tax affected households have had the bedroom tax imposed.

Children have been evicted because of social landlord deception and financial greed in the bedroom tax.

There is no such thing as a social landlord and directly because of the bedroom tax complicity described above.

Now, and more than 3 years after this cancer has been allowed to fester, and a full 18 months after Nelson, the Upper Tribunal is finally getting around to saying what is and is not a bedroom by virtue of size and dimension and not before time.  The most recent UT decision, which makes law, of note says that for a room to be correctly classed as a bedroom for bedroom tax purposes it:

“…should be capable of accommodating a single adult bed, a bedside table and somewhere to store clothes (see paragraph 33 of Nelson), as well as providing space for dressing and undressing.”

In order to accommodate a bed, bedside table, clothes storage and space for dressing and undressing a room has to be an absolute minimum size for a regular shaped room and a higher overall dimension if L-shaped or other irregular shape.

I would cautiously estimate that 20% of all bedroom tax affected households have rooms classed as bedrooms that are smaller than this overall minimum size alone dimension.  Others will have sloping ceilings or other factors such as being heated differently or unheated compared to other rooms which would also mean they are not bedrooms for bedroom tax purposes.

Yet the bedroom tax is still levied because the decision makers, the local council’s HB department – chose to believe the word of the purported social landlord as it was cheaper for them to do this.

However the same paragraph 54 of Nelson which said that social landlords successfully lobbied government not to define the term bedroom also holds THE most important sentence in this judgment of the law when it comes to an undefined English word or term:

” … Parliament intended to allow decision makers to take account of all relevant circumstances on a case by case basis.”

What this means is that when, and only when, a tenant disputes that room meets the criteria for a bedroom tax bedroom, that is can include a bed, bedside table, clothes storage and free floor space, THEN the local councils HB department are duty bound to inspect and measure the room and to say whether the room is or is not a bedroom.

To come out and inspect costs and that is why most councils refuse to come out and go to the cost of inspecting any disputed room.  That is not only the rub, that is the top and bottom of it!

Most councils give any excuse they can not to go to that cost and they seek to dissuade the social tenant from asking for the decision to be reconsidered or having it go to an appeal to the tribunal service, yet both reconsideration and appeal are de facto rights of the HB claimant, the social tenant.

  • Many councils still say it is up to the landlord.  It is not as Nelson makes clear and is a legal fiction or lie.
  • Many councils say they have no discretion and they have to believe thee landlords word as to what is or is not a bedroom.  That is also a lie as council HB departments ARE the decision maker.
  • Many councils say you signed for a 3 bed it is a 3 bed. That is also a lie as each case has to be considered on an individual case by case basis including ALL relevant circumstances.
  • Many councils say previously unsuccessful appeals cannot be re-heard and the tenant has had one go and cannot have another go to reflect the unravelling of what is a bedroom that the UT is doing on a piecemeal basis. That is also a legal fiction and lie as yet another UT decision says

All of this stems from social (sic) landlords successfully and knowingly lobbying the Conservative-led coalition not to define what is and what is not a bedroom back in 2012 before the bedroom tax policy started.

Social (sic) landlords stopped being social the minute they did lobby the Conservatives not to define ‘bedroom’ which they did to carry on defrauding the tenant and the taxpayer through Housing Benefit.

The reasons they gave for that are recorded in the Nelson decision and a matter of public record through Hansard as Nelson recounts.  To define bedroom would mean that social landlords had to be truthful about their product and would have to know what they are selling!

Now we see that instead of landlords not having to go to the cost of going out to measure, the law says that local council HB departments have to do this and who now seek every which way they can to avoid going to that cost even when the consequence of not following the law is children being evicted.

Local councils hope against hope(?) that only a tiny percentage of bedroom tax affected households appeal the bedroom tax decision as the costs saved from making unlawful decisions by believing the landlords word and not assessing each case on its individual merit is more than the cost of having to go out to the small number who do appeal.

Local councils are quite happy to shaft the bedroom tax tenant and to see children be evicted and have their life chances irreparably damaged by this so long as it costs them less money.  Yet local council HB departments would not be allowed to get away with this offensive and outrageous practice if social (sic) landlords had not successfully lobbied government not to define the term ‘bedroom.’

But hey its only the social tenant that gets fucked over so who cares …..?!

6 thoughts on “Social (sic) Landlords created the bedroom tax mess

  1. Joe, is there any way of identifying bedroom tax affected tenants/properties? If not, we need a simple briefing note to highlight the definition of a bedroom and how tenants are being ripped-off by unlawful deductions from housing benefit. This communication should go to every CAB, shelter office, other voluntary bodies as well as each housing association and council housing dept. Do you want to meet up with a small expert group on this?

    1. Hi Anil,
      To answer your question directly, no there is not a way of identifying ‘rogue’ claimed bedrooms.
      I will certainly draft a briefing note and email over and yes a meeting group to explore could be useful

  2. Lobbying after the bedroom tax came in needs to be relooked at. As in one case of one housing association lobbying for one spare bedroom to be exempt per household. How can one ask in this case for a spare bedroom to be exempt where the defintion of what is or not a bedroom is ethereal!

    1. That’s slightly out of context Chris and relates to the “bedroom standard” and parity with that as it allows one additional bedroom over and above the “housing need” element in the bedroom tax regulations.

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