BEDROOM TAX (BT)

Since 2013, the government reduced Housing Benefit (HB) to people in social housing who have one or more "spare" rooms. (Social housing is council, housing association or similar. Councils administering HB make the cut.)

The government gives councils extra funds called Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) to help tenants in hardship due to the bedroom tax. It’s important to claim this money. Many people in need are not getting DHPs. Instead of making these funds available to tenants as they should, councils say they don't have the money, and refuse or ration help to people. They are handing back millions of pounds to central government in unspent DHPs: www.insidehousing.co.uk/the-dhp-divide/7003758. Many people are protesting against this.

You can challenge bedroom tax.

The council will not write to you separately to tell you that your HB is being reduced because of the bedroom tax – it will only show up on your usual HB statement, so read it carefully. The deadline to challenge it is one month after the council write to you about how much HB they are paying you – so write immediately to the benefits section of your council asking them to review their decision. You can still challenge it late if you have ‘good reason’, e.g. illness, bereavement, family crisis or similar. If you have been paying the difference but want to challenge it, you still can. Explain why you didn’t before, for example, if you have only just received advice.

Start your letter with: ‘I think the decision is wrong because...’ Fill in your reasons after checking the guidance and rules below to see what applies to you. Put your council reference number on any letters, sign and date them, and keep a copy. Always post by ‘signed for’ delivery, or hand deliver it and get a receipt, and send a copy to your MP and ward councillors.

1.     Check if your council has taken account of how many bedrooms you are officially allowed:

·        One bedroom for a couple.

·        One bedroom for a person aged 16 or over.

·        One bedroom for two children aged under 16 of the same sex.

·        One bedroom for two children aged under 10 (boys and girls are expected to share).

·        One bedroom for any other child.

·        One bedroom for a severely disabled child. Severely disabled children do not have to share a room with anyone else. The council will decide if that applies to your child. They should take into account the severity of a child's disability (including getting DLA and medical evidence); other children's sleep being disturbed if they shared a room with your disabled child, etc.

·        One bedroom for a foster child (if you are an approved foster carer or have fostered a child in the last 12 months). The same should apply to kinship carers (grandmothers, other relatives) if they are known to Social Services.

·        One extra bedroom if you or your partner needs an overnight carer to stay. This is usually based on the disabled person getting Attendance Allowance or Disability Living Allowance/PIP care component, and the carer staying at least half the week. If the carer stays less, and/or if you don’t get AA, DLA or PIP, you can still make a case that you need a room for a carer to stay – back it with medical evidence from your GP, hospital consultant or similar professional.

·        One bedroom for a son, daughter, lodger, etc., serving in the armed forces who are away if they intend to return to your home.

·        One bedroom for students away from home if they are only away temporarily (less than 52 weeks) and intend to return home. Students who come home for holidays can keep their room.

·        If you share the care of a child, the child is counted as living in the home of the person who gets Child Benefit for them. If that is not you, your child will not be allowed a bedroom in your home. This is being challenged by grandmothers and separated families with shared care of children.

2.     Many different situations are not officially recognised, but you can successfully argue for them to be recognised to be exempted from the BT and get full HB.

Govanhill Law Centre, Scotland has compiled a list of possible reasons (below) people can use in different situations. They refer to human rights law, but you can describe your situation in your own way, such as, you are about to take in a grandchild, or moving would be too stressful.

It is always helpful to have support statements from teachers, health visitors, social workers or other professionals. Detailed evidence improves your chances of success.

List of possible reasons.

·        If you have a disabled person living in the household you may be able to say:

‘A disabled adult lives in my house and requires their own bedroom because of the needs of their disability. To ignore the needs of a disabled member of my household and treating them as not being entitled to their own room to sleep in is discriminatory and unlawful in relation to the Human Rights Act 1998.’ AND

‘The disabled member of my household requires a bedroom for therapeutic/care purposes/to store medical equipment in relation to their disability.’ AND ‘My home has been specially adapted to meet the needs of a disabled person.’

·        If someone in your household has mental or physical health problems you may be able to say:

‘A member of my household has mental or physical health problems which would make moving from their home harmful, and requiring such a move is discriminatory and unlawful in relation to the Human Rights Act 1998.’

·        If you and your children have previously experienced domestic violence, you may be able to say:

‘My children need a safe space because they previously lived in a household which experienced domestic violence and requiring such a move is unlawful in relation to the Human Rights Act 1998.’

·        If you have a small galley-style kitchen you may be able to say:

‘I have a small galley-style kitchen and you have wrongly classified my dining-room as a spare bedroom.’

·        Bedroom or boxroom? If you have a bedroom which is too small or narrow to be used as a bedroom, you may be able to say:

I have a small box-type room which is not a bedroom, and you have wrongly classified this as a spare bedroom.’

Tenants have won many such cases at tribunal. It depends how big the room is and how you use it. Go online to find your local Council’s Housing Allocation Policy or contact them directly and find out what the minimum bedroom size is in your area. If any rooms in your property are smaller than this, they should not be called a ‘spare bedroom’. You can also ask your landlord to confirm or re-assess the number of bedrooms at your property. Alternatively, you can argue that you do not/cannot use your spare room as a bedroom and should give your reasons.

·        If you are separated from a former partner and share childcare on a part-time basis, you may be able to say:

‘I am separated from my former partner and require the room you have wrongly classified as a spare room to meet my childcare and parental duties. To ignore my duties as a parent, and ignore the needs of my children to stay with me, is discriminatory and unlawful in relation to the Human Rights Act 1998, and contrary to the Children Act 1995.’

·        If none of the above apply, then you may wish to argue the following:

‘You have wrongly classified as a spare bedroom the room I use as a family play room/storage room/games room [which is essential because...]

3.  If your tenancy started before 1 January 1996, get advice. You may be able to get a refund for payments from April 2013 despite the government "closing the loophole" in March 2014. www.insidehousing.co.uk/bedroom-tax-loophole-closes-today/7002391.article

Apply to the council for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP), even if you are disputing that the BT applies to you.

Check with your council their rules for getting DHP, as they can vary. Councils are not obliged to pay DHPs, they have discretion, but they must act "fairly". See claim form from Camden: www.camden.gov.uk/ccm/content/housing/housing-benefit/what-if-i-still-have-a-shortfall-in-my-rent.en

Councils are discriminating when they say that because you get disability benefits, you are better off than job seekers, so don’t qualify. Get back-up from an organisation or your MP to challenge them to count your disability expenses. Disabled people and families have high extra costs for disability needs.

Disability Living Allowance or other non-means-tested benefit should not be treated as income to pay rent. This legal precedent was established by Ian Burnip against Birmingham City Council regarding the Local Housing Allowance limit for private tenants. The principle also applies to BT. See: dpac.uk.net/tag/ian-burnip

If you have rent arrears due to BT and are threatened with eviction, get a lawyer to take up your case – Legal Aid is available for any homelessness problem.

Going to tribunal

If you are unhappy with the council’s BT decision, you can ask for your case to be heard by an independent tribunal. First, the council will look again at its decision. If their decision stays the same and you object, they send your case to the tribunal. Then the tribunal will contact you directly. Contact your local law centre or advice centre, to find free representation at your tribunal. You could also represent yourself if you want to: www.barcouncil.org.uk/media/203109/srl_guide_final_for_online_use.pdf

People have won their cases at tribunal – many based on disability needs.

·        Disabled women have proved that their partner needs their own room:

www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/10716753.Disabled_woman_wins
__bedroom_tax__appeal_against_North_East_council/?ref=twtrec

·        Surinder Lall successfully argued that the room was used for his Braille equipment:

www.theguardian.com/society/2013/sep/26/bedroom-tax-westminster-council-defeat

·        Sometimes the DWP will appeal against the tribunal decision even though the council has decided to accept the tenant’s rights. Campaigners in Fife, Scotland, expect to win a landmark case on room size which the DWP is appealing:

www.thecourier.co.uk/news/local/fife/high-hopes-after-bedroom-tax-tribunal-hearing-1.583609

Opposition to the Bedroom Tax has had a BIG effect. The BT was condemned by Raquel Rolnik, the United Nations Special Investigator on Housing. The Scottish government now guarantees DHPs for everyone who applies, in effect abolishing BT. In Scotland, people who have already paid BT for a year are pressing for refunds, or to have their rent arrears cancelled. The Welsh Assembly has called for BT to be scrapped. In a UK-wide court challenge, disabled children won the right to their own room. Many more legal challenges are under way, by people in different situations, including:

·        Couples where one or both are disabled, each need their own bedroom or space for essential equipment – and have been allocated it by the Council.

·        A separated parent sharing care of children needs room for them to stay.

·        Women and children fleeing violent partners need a "safe room" in their home if he comes to attack them.

The total Benefit Cap is also being challenged. This is where your total benefit income, including rent, is cut to £500 a week for single parent or two parent families and couples without children, and £350 a week for a single person. This is done by cutting your Housing Benefit. Women are challenging discrimination against women and mothers in particular:

·        Single mothers and children fleeing domestic violence

·        An unwaged carer for her disabled grandmother