Tuesday 17 September 2013

Bedroom Tax - an important development...

Govan Law Centre in Glasgow has been very active in fighting for its clients - and for the wider good - with regards to the Bedroom Tax (or, as the government would have it, the 'Spare Room Subsidy'). This work seems to have borne fruit.

A 1st Tier tribunal judge has made decisions on a number of cases brought by them on behalf of clients, and has made some important findings. It is important to note that, unlike decisions issued by the (higher) Upper Tribunal, or, say, the Court of Appeal, these decisions do not have the force of legal precedent (this also means that we cannot ask to see the written reasons for the decisions). Nonetheless they are still valuable, as other judges will now be aware of them.

Apart from being a horrid piece of legislation, the Bedroom Tax, or, to give it its official name, the ‘Housing benefit size criteria restrictions for working age claimants in the social rented sector from April 2013’, has a fundamental failing: it does not actually say what a bedroom is. Hitherto the number of bedrooms in a property has been whatever the landlord said it was. The judge wasn't happy with this, and said that whether a particular room is a bedroom has to decided on the facts of the case.

He also made some very useful findings when he looked at specific cases:

  • He noted that, under overcrowding legislation, a bedroom for one adult need to be at least 70 square feet in area, so a claimant whose spare room was only 66 square feet should not have that room classed as a bedroom (he also noted that a room smaller than 50 square feet is not even suitable under overcrowding legislation for a child under 10);
  • He argued that if a room was being reasonably used for something else, it should not count as a bedroom. So in one case, a claimant who stored his wheelchair in one room, and, because of the layout of his home, could not store it anywhere else, won his appeal as the room could not be classed as a bedroom. On the other hand, another claimant who stored his gardening equipment in a room lost his appeal, as the judge didn't find this to be reasonable.
Paradoxically, it would probably be good if the local authority against whom these appeals were made did appeal these decisions to the Upper Tribunal, as it might enable useful precedent to be set, as his arguments appear (at least to me, and especially regarding room size) to be sound. However they may not do so, as the decisions in claimants' favour are in their interests too, as they don't want their tenants to be falling into rent arrears any more than the tenants do.

If you're affected by the bedroom tax yourself, or are helping anyone who is, it's really important that you take action urgently. Measure all the rooms in the house, consider what rooms are used for, and appeal if appropriate. Many claimants will be outside the one month time limit for appealing but it is still worth trying. No claimant will yet be outside the final 13 month limit, but the longer a claimant delays the less likely it is that the tribunal will admit their appeal.

I have updated BenefitsOwl. info accordingly:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b039yp0m (at about the 19 minute mark)

Govan Law Centre haven't yet updated their blog, but for when they do, here's a link to them:

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