(Housing) Benefit Cleansing of London since May 2010 Election – Why it costs every taxpayer more!

Look no further than the official Housing Benefit data published by the DWP to see the HB diaspora from Inner to Outer London.  This is a classic example of how the Tory welfare policies fail as they cost more to the taxpayer

The welfare reform (sic) policies of the Conservatives has seen tenants on housing benefit moved from Inner London to Outer London in huge numbers.

Inner London – % Change in housing benefit claimants

hb-innerlondon clamaint count may 10 feb 15

 

There is a significant reduction in those claiming housing benefit in almost all areas of Inner London Councils under the Tories.

Now compare that to the picture in Outer London Councils.

hb outer london may 10 to feb 15

Notice the difference?

With the exception of one council, every other Outer London Council has experienced significant increases in those claiming housing benefit.

The national picture is an increase of just 2.81% Compare that to Barnet at a 17.05% increase and 4,428 more HB claimants which is 7,876 more claimants there alone than the entire Inner London figure!

In numbers there are less housing benefit claimants in Inner London Councils which cannot be explained by some upsurge in the economy as the Tories would like to claim.  There are 30,478 more claimants in Outer London and in many places across the South East, which the Tories would say are booming, many other Councils see more than double the national increase of 2.81% in those claiming HB.

Some examples include:

Essex – Tendring up 10.88% and Castle Point up 7.1%

Surrey – Tandridge up 15.24% and Reigate up 9.31%

Kent – Ashford up 11.13% and Maidstone 8.63%

Hants – Rushmoor up 17.89% and Hart 9.7%

East Sussex – Wealden up 8.8% and Lewes up 7.8%

West Sussex – Arun up 9.12%

And further afield yet near enough before the Nzolameso case last month prevents this HB diaspora we see Reading up 8.6% and Luton up 8.42% and Aylesbury up 10.9%.

What all of the above areas have in common is that they have a higher proportion of private tenants in receipt of housing benefit than the national average which evidences the Tory policy of homeless discharge of duty into the private rented sector.

The national average split of housing benefit claimants is 67% in social housing and 33% in private rented yet Tendring has 66% of all housing benefit claimants in private renting; Castle Point 64%; Arun 54%; Lewes 49%; Wealden 45%; Luton, Rushmoor and Reading all have 43% of all housing benefit claimants being in the private rented sector.

This is the HB diaspora in action as I predicted and it is far more than just a moral issue over cleansing, albeit an horrific one.  All of the above Councils face greater pressures on their costs in education right down to refuse collection, that is in all local authority areas of activity.  Greater costs and pressures on the NHS, the Police and the Fire Services in these areas too and all done in the name of politics and back of a fag packet policies.

The overall housing benefit bill despite the bedroom tax, benefit cap, LHA cap and SAR cap and despite this enforced movement of tenants to cheaper rent areas has seen the national HB bill INCREASE by £440 million per year and in real terms too.

That puts more cost of every single taxpayer nationally and in the areas above more cost on the local taxpayer and reduced local services because of the influx of housing benefit claimants there.  Because central government will cap necessary council tax increases to cope with this it means the highest increases possible which also means reduced local council services – another way to look at that and correctly look at that is the Tories blaming local government for central government policy.

The above encapsulates Tory benefit policy as back of a fag packet superficiality.  Those on the left of politics (should that exist anymore?) are appalled at the individual human suffering of families being uprooted which also irreparably damages the educational and other life chances of children.  Those on the right of politics who believed the rhetoric that people should not scrounge off the taxpayer and live in areas they can’t afford, now find the ‘hardworking’ taxpayer paying more for them to live in lower rent areas!!

Nobody is scrutinising these very costly failed policies of the Tories as they automatically believe that a cap on benefits or cuts to benefits means the overall bill must fall.  It doesn’t and as the official figures show it only increases cost and at a hugely high rate of individual suffering for those families dispersed in this diaspora.

Numbers don’t lie, only politicians do.

 

Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the prick that knows f**k all

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, a little less and you’re called Nigel Nelson and write for the Mirror Group.

Yet again this hack has written more drivel about the bedroom tax in an article in tomorrows Sunday People and even includes a supposed comment from me, although I have not spoke to him for well over a year and possibly more – Yes he doesn’t stick in the memory when you speak with him either!

In a floral piece here replete with UKIPian language such as open the floodgates Nigel Nelson sets tens if not hundreds of thousands of social tenants up to fail; tenants already shafted by the pernicious policy are now shafted once more so Nigel (must be something in the name reader) can flog a bit of newsprint.

He portrays it as if you are a separated parent affected by the bedroom tax just say my child is entitled to a bedroom here because Nigel says so and you will be taken out of the bedroom tax. The reality is very much different of course but hey this is the Sunday People who still insist this affects 660,000 people, when (a) they mean households and (b) it affects 462,896 households or circa 1.066 million people as all 2.3 people in each household are affected by it.

This is the Sunday People who said two weeks ago here the bedroom tax will affect a further one million people with presumably another error of wrongly conflating households with people and even by their risible standards failed to give any reason WHY this would happen in their view.  It is merely ok to frighten the life out of more vulnerable people in order to sell newsprint and guess who the author was reader?

Nigel Nelson has just made the challenge to the bedroom tax so much harder for any individual tenant affected and for all those who give up their time supporting shafted tenants in appealing this pernicious policy, including in this instance a very forward thinking landlord who supported the tenant here, Coast & Country – a rare occurrence indeed – and one that many landlords are seeking to emulate.

Cue every landlord having every separated parent with shared child care banging on their doors now thanks to this buffoon and every anti bedroom tax group and welfare group and all the rest having to say, sorry, you are fucked over again and don’t believe what you read in the papers.

A bedroom tax abolitionist you call me Nigel.  Pity I wasn’t an abolitionist for woeful and dangerous journalism as you would be right up there with the Murdoch boys.  If your agenda is to write so much shite that the Murdoch headhunters come knocking it’s probably working but don’t dare use my name to take that step up; and a thousand times worse, don’t dare shaft the poor sods who you would claim to be helping in all of this in the bedroom tax tenants.

 

Where will my children live? The question housing needs to address instead of moaning!

I am sick and tired of people in housing moaning;  all they do is moan and bemoan the state they are in.

That has to change and instead of a rigid focus on the admittedly many problems the move to a resolute focus on the solutions to them is needed.

We bombard government with evidence on housing yet they just don’t listen was just one of the moans today.  A typical one and one said many times before and we all see them and have heard them much more in the aftermath of the general election.

Such moans are so commonplace it is almost a case of not another bloody moan as we know that governments of the last 35 years do not listen to social housing and all we do is moan about it.

How do we get government(s) to listen has been asked many times before.  Shall we give them better evidence? Shall we do it more subtly? Shall we…oh sod it let’s just write it on the side of a fox and chase it around Parliament Square on horseback!

As governments of all hues have not listened to housing directly shall we SHOUT at them indirectly? I am strongly of the view that we should and by that I mean the way to make government(s) listen is to force them to listen and the only way we can do that is to target the general public.

Make the general public aware that social housing is the answer to their problems and the general public will do the bidding for social housing – and very specifically for social housing not just housing.

Where will my children live?  Where will my grandchildren live?

In one of the BBC election debates housing got an airing.  Cue twitter feeds going crazy and housing people saying #HomesforBritain had worked.  Absolute nonsense.  Yet what struck me was the two questions above raised in an audience question which was premised on (a) they can’t afford to get on the property ladder even with the bank of Mum and Dad and Grandma and Grandad; and (b) private rented option was far too costly and far too insecure.

By default, the audience member was having to consider social housing as it was the only option available, and, as is all too typical, the perceived housing of last resort.

Ask the social tenant or any social housing professional and they will tell you social housing is NOT the housing of last choice. Yet that is how it is generally perceived and we tend to focus efforts on arguments that it is not, although we never sell its huge benefits. It is time to simplify all of this and look at those two very bloody obvious questions:

Where will our children and where will our grandchildren live?

At this time and in the foreseeable future, as house prices and private rents become ever more unaffordable due to the supply shortage keeping prices high, the public may not want social housing but they realise it is the only choice for their children and grandchildren.  They, the general public NEED social housing.

Yet housing campaigns such as Homes for Britain did not emphasise social housing and instead was incredibly vague and talked of a general housing need for 250,000 properties per year not 80,000 social housing properties; and even more ridiculously vague has the slogan lets solve the (generic) housing crisis in a generation.  As a generation is defined as 25 – 33 years that means if today was the last month of a generation month one was the sinking of the Belgrano and House of Fun by Madness was number 1 in the charts.

The general public, however reluctantly, are being forced to consider social housing.  It is the only type of housing their children and grandchildren are able to afford so let’s sell the general public the benefits of social housing.  Let’s directly target the general public as THE audience for social housing need.

The sector has spent the last 35 years since the original right to buy moaning about right to buy and not on promoting social housing per se, and when lobbying for it has been talking to the deafest of politically deaf ears and ears who are deaf because successive governments have known the general public will not give them grief for not supporting the housing of last resort.

Yet now the general public NEED social housing and they KNOW they need social housing and they know it is the ONLY option open to them to answer the questions of where will my children and where will my grandchildren live.

Housing needs to sell social housing and the social housing model to the general public in order for government to open its cloth ears an listen.  After all it is the best rented product with the best rented service at the best rented price and the best product to be able to save up a deposit for the home ownership dream and gives the best stability for those who live there to do all of that.

But hey let’s keep coming up with more subtle and more ingeniously presented ways of talking only to government and you know what you do have more chance of forcing them to listen by chasing that fox around Parliament Square!

Housing group think and we have always done it this way simply has not worked for 35 years since RTB.

It has no prospect of working for the next 35 years either if you carry on targeting deaf ears as your audience and don’t stop and think and then attempt to answer the obvious need and question of your customer …  Where will my children and grandchildren live?

Landlords supporting tenants to appeal the bedroom tax? Play 20 questions and get the single malt out!

The stunning bedroom tax appeal win that saw a father win a right to a bedroom for the shared care of his son is significant for so many reasons.

  • On a legal basis the judge gave very cogent argument as to why a child can live in two homes.
  • The judge bravely, and correctly, failed to follow a poor judgment from the higher court in the Upper Tribunal. Not the first time as the Carmichael FtT case went against a much higher Court of Appeal judgment and again correctly.
  • If upheld when the case inevitably goes higher it could easily take 20,000 or as many as 50,000 cases out of the bedroom tax and cause massive political damage to the policy, a policy that all other parties then the Conservatives wanted to abolish – again correctly as it costs the taxpayer and public purse more than it saves

Yet what is perhaps most significant and gaining a lot of comment and discussion is that the case was funded and supported by a landlord, Coast & Country Housing Association (CCHA) and this is causing all other social landlords to ask themselves if one landlord can do this why can’t we? – Again correctly.

CCHA is being lauded and feted by all social tenants and a number of other social landlords – extremely correctly – as this is not just good practise or even best practice, it is brilliantly clever financial practice.

Supporting and funding tenants to appeal many will wrongly see it as a moral or ethical decision and in part it is, yet I primarily developed it on a practical and financially beneficial basis and even Cameron would call this a something for something case.  It is mutually beneficial for so many more important reasons for landlords and that is why they need to consider it very seriously.  It is also why every tenant affected by the bedroom tax should be haranguing their landlord to do it as well.

Despite my well known zeal, or is that arrogance(?) to get rid of the pernicious policy and the natural bias that goes with that and despite the fact I will benefit financially from it and / or any kudos, deserved or misplaced, I receive for developing it, I outline below  a far from comprehensive list of why all social landlords should adopt supporting their tenants to appeal that makes a compelling business case.

Questions to which the answer is YES!

  1. The bedroom tax directly created tensions in the landlord / tenant relationship
  2. Landlord and tenant need a good working relationship
  3. Supporting tenants to appeal the bedroom tax improves that relationship
  4. Do tenants want support in appealing the bedroom tax
  5. A good landlord should respond to tenant needs
  6. When a tenant bedroom tax appeal wins the landlord benefits financially
  7. When a tenant wins an appeal the rent stays the same
  8. When a tenant wins an appeal the ongoing HB increases
  9. When a tenant wins an appeal a sizeable HB backpayment goes to landlord
  10. When a tenant wins at appeal the asset value of the property remains the same
  11. The initial costs of funding tenants to appeal is more than recouped from additional HB the landlord receives
  12. The tenant supported by the landlord is more likely to prioritise rent when direct payment of HB goes to the tenant
  13. The tenant has more trust in the landlord that supports their issues
  14. When landlords ask their tenants for precise details of the welfare benefits they receive in order to assess landlord financial risk from the overall housing benefit cap they are more likely to do so if their landlord supports them to appeal.

If you answer anything other than YES to all the above you need to reconsider.

I could go on and no and the above is far from an exhaustive list.  I explain in detail at the end why 6 through 10 of the above are 100% factual and that is important.  Landlords were worried about supporting tenants to appeal as falsely they assumed they could lose out by this. They can’t as I explain at the end.  Those reasons for NOT supporting tenants to appeal are obsolete and always hollow ones.

Even the typical excuse for not supporting tenants to appeal as it would appear to be politicking are easily circumvented and rendered as nonsense by point 4 and 5 above.

YET more important is the goodwill supporting tenants creates which counters the rift in the landlord relationship directly caused by the bedroom tax at point 1 and far more importantly WILL see tenants pay more rent when direct payments come in as they keep paying rent a high priority.  The pilots of direct payment revealed a 6.6% non payment of rent rate which if reproduced will put many social landlords out of business as it is circa 13 times the current non payment rate of about 0.5% or so.

That is the really crucial reasoning in developing my package for landlords to support tenants to appeal.  Even if the direct payment settles down at 2% as the DWP suggests that is still 4 times the current non payment rate and a financial nightmare for all social landlords.  Getting the tenant onside by supporting them to appeal is not primarily a moral decision it is a financial decision and a very sensible one of good business practice.

It is a something for something package as Cameron would say, or call it a mutual back scratching exercise if you want, call it anything you like but consider the likely longer term goodwill this brings.  If the landlord who supports the tenant to appeal achieves a 1.5% non rent payment rate when direct payment lands rather than a sector average of 2% as DWP assume then that 0.5% could easily runs into hundreds of thousands of pounds per year payback for supporting tenants to appeal!

The recently announced reduction in the overall (housing) benefit cap means landlords critically need very precise welfare benefit receipt data from all its tenants to assess landlord financial risk.  Yet landlords have no legal right to get this from any source and the tenant can refuse this.  However if the tenant has higher trust for its landlord because its landlord supported them…

Questions to which the answer is No!

  1. Can the tenant who have struggled beyond belief to pay the bedroom tax these past years do so for a further 5 years?
  2. If we don’t challenge the bedroom tax our arrears will not increase?
  3. Can landlords just sit back and do nothing about challenging the bedroom tax?
  4. Landlords are best challenging this on their own and not involving tenants fully?
  5. Our tenants will sit idly by and refuse to help in challenging the bedroom tax?
  6. Our tenants will not fully involve themselves and support all other tenants to appeal the bedroom tax and act as mentors and supporters of tenants appealing the bedroom tax?

It is difficult to articulate how strongly tenants despise the bedroom tax and despite landlords going out of their way pre bedroom tax to say the bedroom tax is not their fault, many tenants do wrongly perceive landlords were a part in this and because of the initial red-inked letter bombardment and other regrettable practices some landlords took when the policy began.

Mostly such offensive practices have ceased or at least dramatically reduced in scale and number and I no longer hear about housing officers ‘doorstepping’ tenants in their home or extremely offensive pay your rent or social services will take the kids letters.  The sector knows some offensive practices took place and the consequences of that was always going to be further tensions in the landlord tenant relationship and an increase in non payment of rent when direct payment landed.  It was naive short termism by the few for which the many will suffer.

Yet the same tenants will jump at the chance of support to appeal which they badly need and want and yes some will say about bloody time BUT it will restore the vitally needed faith and trust in their landlord again which will result in much higher rent payment and massively benefit all landlords.

On an even more cynical note, social landlords in part adopted the AR model to increase revenue by some £150 million or year in 2013/14 alone to mitigate and counteract the increase in arrears the bedroom tax created.  Yet AR is dead as a dodo because of the reduced benefit cap and no longer viable for this purpose whether you believe this posit to be cynical or not.

Landlords have to do something as there is no way tenants  – who have foregone 2 or 3 meals and often more per week in order to pay the bedroom tax for the past two years  – can continue this for another 5 years.

The key to winning bedroom tax appeals is in the written arguments submitted ahead of the tribunal hearing.  I developed and honed these arguments from a what works basis and they get amended after every decision at First-tier and Upper Tribunal.  Each new case gives subtle changes to how any appeal on size or usage or shared care of a bedroom each for a couple on medical grounds and all other appeal grounds.

It is these arguments and training on them that sees landlords win at appeal and of course that also gives in house welfare teams better knowledge and skills for other issues such as benefit maximisation challenges and the like.

That gives a short term involvement while remaining in the background to help and advise with some of the more unusual and more complex cases that arise and to draft argument to set aside or appeal up losing cases if requested.  It still leaves an ever developing skill set for in house welfare teams to argue and present such cases but as CCHA’s team have proved in the GL case they are more than up to that challenge and they have done a magnificent job in this (and soon to be reported upon) other cases too.

While I have not undertaken any formal cost benefit analysis on this CCHA project in speaking with their welfare team the increased HB income from the number of CCHA tenants awarded an exemption for a bedroom for an overnight carer alone exceeds the fees charged and runs into 5 figures per year – an unexpected bonus but a welcome one and no need to go to tribunal either. Add to that the appeal wins and the magically appearing DHPs for appellants  – a known and typical by-product of appealing – and all of the longer term financial benefits of higher and more prioritised rent payment in direct payments become an additional financial bonus.

The bold decision taken by Iain Sim at CCHA to support his tenants needs and wants was perspicacious – a word we will struggle to pronounce when he finally takes me on that single malt sampling session he once promised when the project proved successful and I have not forgotten about, ahem!  Seriously I don’t want to delve into the realms of sycophancy but Iain does deserve all the plaudits he and his teams at CCHA  are getting over this: Many CEO’s did put their heads above the parapet and decried the bedroom tax policy, Iain, unlike most, acted on it.

I could make a strong argument that in house welfare teams save money on staff recruitment and retention costs too as they love the job they do and all this involves.  Much of the social and other media challenge to the bedroom tax has heartbreaking stories of severely disabled tenants and other emotive factors.  Challenging them cannot be emotive yet the joy on staff faces when they win and they know they have kept the tenant in their property and taken away the despised bedroom tax so they can now get back on with their lives is something to see.

As it is with tenants who – whether they win or lose – play a heart warming and key part in supporting other tenants when they appeal.  Tenants don’t want other tenants to have to suffer like they have done and they spread the positive word that their landlord helped them even if they lost their own cases.

Tenants themselves can also be trained up to take appeals and one of the first cases I won in Liverpool saw a tenant decide to take cases for other tenants.  She is disappointed with the 70% success rate she has achieved in these appeals too!!  She has widened her brief and started FACE to take other welfare benefit appeals and with a staggeringly high success rate in ESA and PIP and DLA cases to boot – though of course still unhappy.  Other groups locally such as ReClaim also have a greater than 70% success rate in bedroom tax appeals and have given local landlords staggering amounts of additional HB income too and higher welfare benefit income to tenants with ESA and DLA appeals too.

It is hard to put a price on the return on investment supporting tenants to appeal the bedroom tax will produce in direct payment and in other areas.  Yet the look on the tenants face and on your staffs faces when they win and the goodwill this creates you couldn’t put a price on anyway.  And, as stated above this has already increased income before we get to the longer term benefits of direct payments and increased goodwill and trust CCHA has gained from its tenants.

If I say perspicacious again you reckon there may be a few Islay single malts going…

_________________________________________

Reducing rent levels, re-designation, and DWP hogwash

The offending and errant bedroom tax guidance in the HB circular A4 of 2012:

a42012 para 12

This COULD read that if a property is decided for bedroom tax purposes to only have 2 and not 3 bedrooms that the landlord must reduce the rent, must reclassify the property and therefore have a very adverse impact on the asset value of the landlords stock giving problems with borrowings and interest rates on them.  It is utter hogwash in law and regulation yet undoubtedly landlords shied away from supporting tenants to appeal the bedroom tax for this reason – and would be entirely correct not to support if any of this nonsense held water.

The HB regulations on reducing HB payment levels are clear as day.  This can only happen where the rent level is unreasonably high – see Schedule 2 3(1)(b) of the 2006 HB regulations – which in any case this regulation relating to social landlords was abolished when the bedroom tax came in and HB decision makers now have no powers to reduce the rent or HB payable through a referral to the Rent Officer.

The national average rent differential between a social rent 2 and 3 bed is £5.97 per week according to HCA figures so a 3 bed becoming a 2 bed plus boxroom or whatever cannot be argued to be unreasonably high.

Indeed the DWP confirm this in HB circular G2 of 2015 after having first issued a truly bizarre assertion in the earlier U6 circular of 2014.

The U6 of 2014 said:

hb circular u62014.

Yet the G2 circular of 2015 forced and embarrassing climbdown to reflect the law in the HB regulations:

G22015 hb circular

“…as it is recognised that this is outside their remit…”  In other words impossible for the HB decision maker to do, yet still the DWP add an equally perverse waiver to say “…especially where the landlord of the property is not the LA.”

That could be read as the HB department in the council could re-designate a council or even ALMO property and could reduce the rent level of HB paid to that rent level is the owner is the council.  Utter hogwash as the HB regulations do not allow this, yet the sophistry of this waiver to the preceding fact is typical of DWP circulars in distorting the fact of what the regulations and law says when they do not like what it says!

A child can have two homes for bedroom tax purposes – Stunning appeal win by a landlord!

A First-tier Tribunal judge has gone against the recent Upper Tribunal decision that a child can live in two homes and gives hope – and very well reasoned legal hope – to all separated couples and especially to the ‘absent parent’ most often the father who is hit with the bedroom tax for the bedroom his child uses.

There are very subtle legal nuances in this 7 page statement of reasons attached below and this necessitates a rather lengthy blog even by my standards!

In summary it was the universal view that the Upper Tribunal case of  [2015] UKUT 34 (AAC) (22 January 2015) saw Upper Tribunal Judge Jacobs use HB regulation 7 to deny a room for the child in shared care cases and shut the door firmly on shared care cases in the bedroom tax.   Yet the legal reasoning is wrong according to FtT Judge A N Moss in a case heard on 30th April for which the statement of reasons is below and states precisely why the Newcastle UT case is wrong.

To explain it is easier to begin with why the Newcastle UT case said the shared care child is not entitled to a bedroom in the bedroom tax and I have cut and pasted Giles Peaker’s report of this on the Nearly Legal site:

The Upper Tribunal found that Regulation B13(5) – ‘occupies the dwelling as their home’ had to be read in the context of the Housing Benefit Regulations overall.

“Regulation 7(1)(a) is part of that context. It provides that ‘a person shall be treated as occupying as his home the dwelling normally occupied as his home … by himself and his family’. Section 137(1)(c) of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 defines ‘family’ as ‘a member of the same household for whom that person is responsible and who is a child’. This leads to regulation 20(2)(a), which provides that when ‘a child … spends equal amounts of time in different households … the child … shall be treated … as normally living with the person who is receiving child benefit in respect of him’.”

Had to be read in the context of HBR is correct yet that is precisely what Judge Jacobs did not do in the Newcastle UT case.

He (a) failed to spot that regulation 7 has been ‘amended’ by the revised 2012 regulation which brought in the bedroom tax; and (b) his outdated argument is predicated on this flawed and outdated reading of regulation 7.

“The occupation as his HOME…by himself and his FAMILY” is a false interpretation of regulation 7 – that is the key issue. What the UT judge missed is that the bedroom tax – the amended 2006 HB regulations enacted by Statutory Instrument 3040 in 2012 changes the interpretation of regulation 7 and also find it wanting.

The bedroom tax allows a bedroom for a lodger and in fact actively encourages that.  It was also parliament’s intention to include a lodger as part of the home and the bedroom tax revised regulations B13(5) allows a bedroom for a lodger.

Yet a lodger is not part of the claimant’s household or part of the claimant’s FAMILY…and the lodger still sees where he lives as his HOME.

As such limiting the bedroom tax as the UT judge did in the Newcastle case to the claimant …and his family was and is fundamentally flawed in law as it fails to take into account that ‘home’ is NOT limited to the claimant and his family alone but home includes all of those mentioned in regulation B13(5) which includes any adult such as a lodger and any child for whom the dwelling is his or her home.

Regulation B13(5) from SI 3040 of 2012 which enacted the bedroom tax

b135

Note well that the amended HB regulations do NOT limit who occupies ‘home’ to only the claimant and his family but to all whom the relevant authority (the local Council HB department or the Tribunal) is satisfied occupies the dwelling as their home.

A lodger would come under 5(b) a person who is not a child and as in this case the child of shared care arrangements would come under 5(e) a child…providing that the Tribunal is satisfied the child does as a matter of individual fact see his father’s house in this case as one of his two homes.

That final point is hugely significant as the statement of reasons here shows the Tribunal establishes very clearly – as a matter of individual fact in this individual case that the child does have two homes.  The SoR is at pains to point out this is a matter of well established and practical fact that the child does have two homes and occupies them both.

[Aside – this also negates Marchant? But I will leave that for other discussion sites]

The case also states very cogently that the Newcastle UT case failed to adopt the correct test (see 22) and argues powerfully that the relevant statutory test is ‘home’ and not household as the Newcastle UT wrongly limited the test to by saying the claimant and his family or ‘household’ which is a term that does NT appear in the amended 2012 HB regulations which brought in the bedroom tax.  Judge Moss is very rigorous in his argument here and details his legal view from [22] all the way to [64] with many key points along the way.

The legal argument will provoke discussion which I will leave to others to moot and the critical point is that this case re-opens the door for all of the separated parents with shared care arrangements to argue that the child or children in such shared care cases are entitled to a bedroom for bedroom tax purposes.

Yet ONLY if, as in this case, you can persuade the tribunal that the child or children do have two homes as a matter of practical individual fact.  In crude terms if you are the father who has left and your allegedly spare bedroom has Disney’s Frozen wallpaper and a pink duvet and a wardrobe full of your 8 year old daughters clothes as well as evidence such as detailed formal and informal arrangements for when she stays with you, THEN the door that the very legally questionable Newcastle UT ruling closed is flung wide open by this case.

This could affect tens of thousands of cases of shared care arrangements of children in the bedroom tax and bedroom tax appeal groups will rightly latch onto this as they should.  As will the tiny few CABx who take bedroom tax appeal cases.

It should also be seized upon by every social landlord and they should start funding and supporting their tenants to make similar appeals and indeed that is where this case comes from.

I was engaged by Coast & Country Housing Association to help their tenants appeal the bedroom tax which involved advising and supporting their in-house Welfare Team and their Tenants Working Group on appeals including the drafting of the key written tribunal submissions used in this and all other cases for the range of appeal grounds.

All social landlords should have done the same and not only has the initial support more than paid its way through appeal wins, (unsurprisingly) councils magically finding DHPs and overnight care exemptions for tenants appealing that they did not before.

More importantly is that when direct payment of HB goes to the tenant, then CCHA tenants will remember their landlord stood behind their plight and so far greater levels of rent payment and prioritisation of rent payment will flow.  CCHA made an extremely clever business decision in supporting their tenants and did not just take a moral stance on the issue.

They deserve a major hat tip for this and have shown the way for all other reputedly social landlords including the many misguided ones who believed they would lose out if a tenant won at appeal.  They don’t as the rent level remains, the tenant and landlord get more in HB, they get a backdated payment too and there is no asset loss at all when the Tribunal rules the alleged 3 bed is in fact a 2 bed or when they rule as here that a separated dad has a right to an additional bedroom for his child in the bedroom tax regulations when read correctly.

Privately many social landlords expressed wanting to support their tenants to appeal yet the overwhelming majority failed to do so.  Their tenants will not forget that.  Even when those majority of allegedly social landlords took the initial view of the CIH that they should not support tenants to appeal, they still did not change when the CIH did a U-turn and advocated they should support their tenants to appeal it in a good practice paper CIH put out in January 2015.

Yes hindsight is easy but now so many social landlords wished they had supported their tenants instead of a red-inked bombardment of pay your rent or else.

As well as the direct payment issue above, the fact that all social landlords now need their tenants to freely give them precise details on all their welfare benefits for benefit cap purposes, is another reason why not supporting those people who you call your ‘customer’ then treat with such disdain was bad practice and a chronic lack of forethought or indeed any thought.

Those comments are neither a plug for my services or saying I was right all along its just putting this good practice into its correct context and supporting your tenants in the bedroom tax was always good business practice and a no-brainer for all social landlords.  Not doing so will cost your bottom line so much more for the same reasons.

Yes this is only a FtT decision but it does say precisely why the scant Newcastle UT decision is legally unsound and provides a whole host of supporting arguments for all bedroom tax appeals involving shared care of children cases.

The timing of this release coming just after the election which guaranteed 5 more years of the bedroom tax (though the case was heard a week before the election) could not be better for social tenants and, if they finally see the light, for social landlords.  If will cheer up and put fire back into the belly of the bedroom tax appeal group after they received the wrong election result (did any party other than the Tories support it?)

Finally, a major hat tip to Claire and her team at CCHA who presented this case, just as important as what was argued, and to Judge Moss for an extremely cogent statement of reasons that tens of thousands of separated parents right across the country can and will benefit from when they appeal the bedroom tax decisions they have received.

The Statement of Reasons

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That fire back in your belly yet bedroom tax campaigners? It should be!  Will other landlords follow suit? Ah……!

Just another significantly adverse social housing impact of the overall (housing) benefit cap – part 934

For his next trick IDS will make poverty and world hunger disappear overnight reader.  He is at best an illusionist and more correctly he is a consummate liar and never more so than with the benefit cap.

The myth surrounding the benefit cap of IDS is unparalleled.  He has persuaded the general public that the overall housing benefit cap to give it a name resembling its operation must mean a cap leads to a reduction in housing benefit bill.

Just as night follows day putting a cap must mean a reduction in cost right?  It has to be the case surely?  Yet the fact from the official figures released, ironically, by IDS and his DWP, prove without a doubt that the OHBC and the LHA cap and the SAR cap and the bedroom tax has resulted in an INCREASE in the housing benefit bill.

The detail is here and reveals the overall HB bill has increased by £440 million per year despite the four welfare reform policies which all set out to reduce it.

Unlike the bedroom tax which has had universal effect across the country the benefit cap, the overall housing benefit cap (OHBC) has had limited public scrutiny. The selling of it by IDS as nobody who is workless should get more than the average household income is deliberate sleight of hand.

IDS wants the public to believe that workless means lazy unemployed scroungers, yet the OHBC affects those who are unable to work, what the English Housing Survey labels ‘other inactive’ which includes those who are sick and disabled and more than two-thirds of other inactive live in social housing.

annex table 2 ehs

As the above shows 847,000 of those classed as other inactive live in social housing and just 388,000 in private rented housing and significantly these are precisely who is targeted in the soon to be reduced overall housing benefit cap and that presents a huge problem for social housing.

The OHBC applies to the tenant in the ESA working group and exempts those in receipt of ESA and in the support group.  It means:

  1. all social landlords need to collect extremely precise welfare benefit data on all of its tenants which they currently do not have to assess risk of arrears through the benefit cap applying or not.
  2. landlords need to keep this welfare benefit data up-to-date and extremely accurate in order to assess risk of arrears from the 85% of social tenants – 3.3 million out of 3. 9 million – who receive housing benefit.
  3. landlords also need to know as soon as one of their tenants on housing benefit becomes pregnant as a new child gives the tenant £67 per week more in child tax credit yet reduces the residual maximum amount of housing benefit that tenant can receive as the OHBC is a zero sum game

There are many more consequences and most notably that social landlords cannot afford to accommodate the tenant with 3 or more children or the tenant profile risk; and the ubiquitous 3 bed social housing property becomes a toxic financial product for that reason, the stock profile risk.

Yet the knowledge deficit risk – that is what precise welfare benefits the tenants receive – is perhaps the hardest one for social landlords to assess the overall risk to arrears, eviction costs and homelessness from the reduced OHBC.

The ESA example above does means that in order to assess financial risk that ALL landlords need accurate, very specific and up-to-date welfare benefit data on tenants.  The private landlord will not bother making any distinction and will refuse to house any tenant on ESA as the cost of collating that data is a huge one.  The social landlord has no choice but to find out this very precise and very personal data on its tenants.

Therein lies the problem.  The social tenant will have to volunteer this information that its social landlord desperately needs, yet the social tenant has a deeper mistrust of its landlord all down to the bedroom tax which directly attacked the landlord:tenant relationship, and in which social landlords bombarded its customers, the tenant, with red-inked letter saying pay your rent or else.

Yes a generalisation in part but nonetheless a very valid point and a policy I repeatedly attacked and called social landlords inept for adopting as it was always going to come back and bite landlords where it hurts.  By contrast I praised the likes of Coast & Country (CCHA) who financially supported its tenants to appeal the bedroom tax and that now seems incredibly good and extremely perspicacious business practice.

CCHA tenants know their social landlord was always behind their plight unlike the vast majority of other social landlords and so when they approach their tenants they will get a much better response from tenants willing to share their precise welfare benefit data with the landlord because CCHA tenants have that prized issue – TRUST!  CCHA tenants trust their landlord far more than other tenants and CCHA by this simple action and intent will fare much better than other landlords in acquiring tenant WB data and as was part of the original intent receive far more in rent payment when direct payment of HB goes to the tenant.

I am aware of other social landlords who are paying the bedroom tax for some tenants in return for an acceptable behaviour contract – mostly ensuring gas safety checks, avoidance of sanctions and ASB – though not limited to that and such conditional issues now have to be considered by all landlords.  This can be seen as a something for something issue if you will, yet when it comes to the absolutely critical collection of tenant welfare benefit data very few social tenants will give it freely or trustingly on a something for nothing basis to the landlord.

To be blunt, the social tenant who is now asked by the landlord for its precise welfare benefit data is most likely to tell the social landlord to go **** themselves – and because of the way their landlords treated them in the bedroom tax with the red-inked bombardment of pay your rent or else, or even pay it or we will inform social services who will take away your kids in one extremely offensive letter from a very thoughtless social landlord.

Thoughtless? – Yes another of my consistent themes has been that social landlords do not think and the consequences of the red-inked bombardment and social services will take your kids communications will definitely impact with the critical knowledge deficit risk in the OHBC.  The same social landlords will need their tenants to trust them now and frankly tenants do not trust their social landlords because of what has gone before with the bedroom tax.

Now social landlords have another 5 years of the bedroom tax and if that was not bad enough they now have the direct payment, monthly payment and so many more abject horrors of Universal Credit to deal with…but the OHBC is the most financially damaging and risky policy of the lot for social landlords and for the social housing model itself.

It is time they did think for once and then take decisive actions.  Let me give them a little nudge…

Prior to May 2010 social landlords had no need to know the precise welfare benefits of their tenants.  All they needed to know was is the tenant in receipt of Housing Benefit or not and if so the full rent would be paid.  Many welfare benefits automatically passport the tenant onto Housing Benefit such as Income Support, Job Seekers Allowance and ESA and here is the official data from the DWP on which welfare benefit passported tenants onto Housing Benefit

 

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Note the rise in ESA claimants passported onto housing benefit.

The latest HB figures published last week see ESA with 1,114,645 passported compared with 580,794 for Income Support; 395,955 from JSA and 925,559 from Pension Credit.  The largest passported benefit to housing benefit is ESA by some distance and all social landlords need to know whether their ESA tenants are in the support group and exempt from the OHBC or whether they are in the working group and affected by the OHBC.

Cue social landlords now realising that they really really DO need to know and collect, at their own additional and significant cost, the very precise and full details of all the welfare benefits their tenants receive…and cue social landlords now saying why the hell did we bombard our customers (sic) with red-inked pay your rent or else letters (and texts and phone calls and doorstepping) for!  We should have THOUGHT of that! Precisely!

How can we persuade our tenants (our – yes always the possessive) to give us their precise welfare benefit data? How do we keep this up-to-date and 100% accurate which we also critically need?  How can we ensure our tenants inform us of a son or daughter moving out or even back in as the Tories banning housing benefit for those aged under 21 will see them go back to the family home and cause a whole host of non dependant deduction problems for or tenants? How the hell can our tenants trust us?  How could we have been so thoughtless and inept to forget our purpose with the knee jerk get the rent in at all costs approach we had (and still have?) in the bedroom tax?

That’s not schadenfreude or yes I was right and now I am ramming it back down your throats housing people – it is a painful reality and yet another vital and necessary wake up call.  You have lost the trust of the tenant and that was incredibly naive and foolish and extremely thoughtless.  The focus on social landlords immediate needs to get the money in and with complete disregard to the consequences of that and especially how it was and still is perceived was taking your customer for granted.

It was a Ratneresque policy that your customer wants and needs did not matter.  Carry on wrapping that up with but we need to get the money in and other other superficial rationale, it is HOW you went about it and what the very adverse consequences of that are now and now that you realise you need good tenant relationships based on the trust you have lost with your recent actions.

Social landlords can no longer adopt a wait and see policy, the same reactive but never proactive strategy they invariably adopt.  The welfare reform (sic) policies are truly radical and require radical consideration and then radical and proactive actions.  Simply tugging your forelock at what morsels government tend to throw at you and blithely saying there is nothing we can do will see you fold and become non-financially sustainable.

The subject here is just another of the not so obvious but highly significant impacts of the Overall Housing Benefit Cap policy and one of scores of very significant risks to your survival that you have acquiesced to by being silent and inactive and thoughtless.  When you finally get rid of the closed mindset and the we have always done it this way one and stop patronising and taking for granted your customer, the tenant, then maybe you will be ready to consider the solutions to the above and finally think as you should have done in the first place.

In the past few weeks I have been speaking to many housing professionals at the highest levels who did not even realise the benefit cap means that the only benefit to be capped in the vast majority of cases is housing benefit, just 85% of the lifeblood of social housing.  If anything confirms that social housing has not thought….

 

UPDATE

I can generally find and access official data quite readily yet for the past month or so I have been seeking a breakdown of ESA claimants into the Support Group (SG) who are exempt from the OHBC and for ESA claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) to whom the OHBC applies.

I have found the first few years of ESA from 2008 to August 2010 (below) which shows that 72% of ESA claimants are in the WRAG and therefore liable for the OHBC.  This would mean if the same percentage of initial ESA cases remains the same that 72% of the 1,114,645 ESA claimants passported onto housing benefit are liable for the benefit cap.

In numbers that means 802,544 ESA claimants on housing benefit are potentially hit by the OHBC and 312,101 are exempt.  You see the scale of the issue and why all social landlords need to have very precise data on tenant welfare benefits!!

Yet I suspect and there is very strong anecdotal evidence to suggest that there are more than 72% in the WRAG and that it has been overt DWP policy to place as many as possible in the WRAG group and as few as possible in the SG for ESA.  Anyone got any official data they can share?

Meanwhile here’s the original data which shows a trend in any case of placing more and more in the non OHBC exempt WRAG

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No DHP for bedroom tax households after July 2015

Tenants affected by the bedroom tax and all social landlords need to take note that it is highly unlikely any discretionary housing payments (DHP) will be given to bedroom tax cases after July this year.

The reason is the inevitable consequence of the reduction in the benefit cap and all local councils will have no choice but to divert DHP to benefit cap cases and away from bedroom tax cases and this also means that the majority of DHP awards will go to the private tenant not the social tenant.

Local councils are given DHP money from central government and they are free to spend 1% or 100% of it on bedroom tax or benefit cap or LHA cap and frankly, whatever they deem to be the priority.

The reduced benefit cap means private landlords will seek to evict all families on benefit firstly and soon to be followed by social landlords having to evict social tenant families.  The social and private tenants will need to find at least double the bedroom tax average reduction in HB and some will not get a penny in housing benefit at all. Hence the only way for them to remain in their properties and avoid becoming homeless – a huge cost to local councils – is to receive a DHP.

Local councils will simply and inevitably shift DHP payments to benefit cap households and away from bedroom tax households as to do will save the local councils money in temporary homeless costs.

The bedroom tax tenant who is angry that the bedroom tax has a further 5 years of operation need to worry far more about NOT receiving a DHP as that is the inevitable consequence of the reduced overall housing benefit cap that will come in by the end of June or early July 2015.

The social landlord who has not re-evaluated its position and expects the same level of bedroom tax DHP this year is living in cloud cuckoo land. And just for good measure let’s not forget that DHP in total has received a £40m cut this year too!

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For those who can be bothered to read further and to enquire more deeply into the logic here we only have to look at how the DHP monies were spent in 2013/14 for which the DWP produced a breakdown over a year ago.  While £60m was ‘allocated’ for bedroom tax DHP, councils spent £80m in DHP for bedroom tax cases.

Yet when you look at the London local councils who all had to face the LHA cap which in many cases drastically reduced the housing benefit payable to tenants, those councils spend the overwhelming majority of their DHP money on LHA cases and have done since because the benefit cap reduces the amount of housing benefit these households can receive even further.

This is precisely what will happen across the rest of England & Wales come July 2015 when the reduced benefit cap will take effect. Below is the summary of the DHP spend for all councils in 2013/14 and at first glance does not support the above argument.  Yet this was before the reduced OHBC comes into play and we need to look at individual councils especially the London councils who were affected by both the LHA cap and the original £500 per week overall benefit cap due to the perversely high rents in the capital. dhpspent Below is LB Westminster DHP actual spend and as you can see the spending on bedroom tax DHP is miserly at £101,907 or just 1.72% of its total DHP allocated.  By comparison it spend £2.49 million on LHA cap DHP and £1.32m on benefit cap cases.

Yet come July when the reduced overall housing benefit cap will see the 3 child SRS household lose £30 per week in HB and the lone parent 4 child SRS household lose £65 per week in HBand the couple with 4 children get nothing at all in HB, then Liverpool as an example of a low rent area will have exactly the same HB pressures that LB Westminster had a year or so ago.

Liverpool City Council as an example of all councils will have the choice of carrying on with bedroom tax DHP payments or face much higher cost in temporary homeless provision for the thousands of families evicted and made homeless from the reduced benefit cap (OHBC) Its a no-brainer for ALL local councils to do as LB Westminster and many other London councils did and pay DHPs just to benefit cap cases and NOT to bedroom tax cases.  This will save local councils money and that is simply why they will do this.

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For direct comparison here is how Liverpool spent their DHP allocation when the LHA and benefit caps were NOT an issue there. dhp liverpool

Liverpool added to their allocation from central government and in fact spent 110% of its DHP allocation on bedroom tax cases at £2.25 million yet spent just £36k on the benefit cap and just £229k on the LHA caps.  Yet the overall (housing) benefit cap will be a major issue for DHP in Liverpool (and all other councils) when the OHBC is reduced.

It will be an even bigger issue in neighbouring Wirral which has a far higher percentage of private tenants on housing benefit than Liverpool and thus have a higher top up to their rent than a social tenant; and a monstrous issue in Blackpool with over 72% of all housing benefit recipients living in the PRS compared to the 32% national average.

For the same reasons the OHBC will see a massively reduced amount of DHP spent on bedroom tax cases right across England and Wales as councils divert it to benefit cap cases and more so in areas of higher than average private tenants on HB such as Darlington at 44% compared with Redcar at the 32% national average and similarly will happen more in NE Lincolnshire than in Hull and more in Doncaster rather than Rotherham and in South Derbyshire but much less in North East Derbyshire.

I still strongly maintain that even in those councils with a high level of SRS HB claimants that bedroom tax DHPs will plummet..I am merely saying in areas with higher than average proportions of PRS claimants that DHPs for bedroom tax will be as rare as hen’s teeth.

The same will follow in the tiny pockets of high rent areas spread around the UK such as York and Altrincham and Cambridge and others which have far higher rent levels than neighbouring councils. Yet the general picture is that bedroom tax DHPs will be as rare as hen’s teeth very soon and right across the country.

That means that social housing evictions will increase more sharply from bedroom tax cases and all down to the reduced overall (housing) benefit cap cases attracting DHP and taking it away from the bedroom tax cases.

Local councils will not be too fussed about this as they have far less legal homeless duties to single persons rather than to children so bedroom tax under-occupiers are far less likely to incur councils higher homeless costs but homeless families with children will.

This is just one of the less obvious implications for social tenants and social landlords from the reduced overall benefit cap policy – also it was Labour Party policy so no political point except to say Labour can’t argue against it in the Commons because it was also their policy too – and one of many such consequences not first apparent in the reduced overall HOUSING benefit cap.

UPDATE

A few have commented that this is a Tory policy and Labour will challenge it on various social media sites.  That will not happen as this was Labour policy too!  I drafted this a month or so ago before election that explains all – Just replace Miliband with whoever wears a blue tie and is put in post as the next Labour Party leader

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So yes there can be no effective opposition to this in the House of Commons and remember the benefit cap is a hugely popular policy with a staggering 78% approval rating by the public in some polls.  Yet as it has actually increased benefit cost to date – yes this cap and the LHA and SAR cap along with the bedroom tax all cost MORE in housing benefit in real terms – there is little chance of any public opposition to it….until they see child upon child being evicted and made homeless because of it.  Even then they will not care about the effective removal of DHP from the bedroom tax tenant.

If you think this is alarmist wake up!  This is a racing certainty to take DHP away from bedroom tax households and to evict hundreds of thousand of children!  Finally because the benefit cap targets families with children it also means that when DHPs get switched from bedroom tax to benefit cap that far fewer disabled households will receive a DHP which of course will provoke and rile the disability lobbies, as it should.  But hey I am just the messenger forewarning you of this not the person or party(s) who came up with the bloody stupid idea of the benefit cap in the first place!

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UPDATE – Just a thought and with my usual liking for numbers – The above table on actual DHP spend revealed almost £81 million spent on bedroom tax DHP in the first year and if this does all get transferred to benefit cap DHP then that is £43.6 million per year less going to social housing in DHP if the 54%:46% ration of private to social tenants affected by the benefit cap is still valid from the original impact assessment.  Or £43.6 million more social housing arrears and the resultant increase in evictions…