Tag Archives: Joe Halewood

The Tory ‘Bedroom Tax’ trap – follow government advice and your council will sue you


Thanks are due to Joe Halewood for bringing this to light:

Bedroom tax tenants will be fined £30,000 and placed on the rogue landlord database if they do what the Tories advise them to do and take in lodgers to mitigate the bedroom tax!

Take in a lodger to mitigate the bedroom tax in your spare room as official advice but if you do then your local council will fine you £30,000 for following government advice because the room you let out to the lodger and for which you are being charged bedroom tax is not a bedroom as it is not of the minimum size to be a bedroom!

[According to government advice, minimum bedroom sizes are] 6.51 square metres … 70 square feet… 10.22 square metres … 110 square feet [for two adults] and 4.64 square metres … 50 square feet [for children aged 10 and younger].

The government (and social landlords and bedroom tax decision makers in local councils) and the courts will say these minimum sizes ONLY apply to:

(a) private landlords and

(b) ONLY in HMOs and

(c) ONLY when there are 5 people or more living in the same property.

One option that the government say is available for those nasty social tenants who are under occupying … is for the tenant to let out their allegedly spare room to a lodger. YET that would make the tenant a private landlord who is creating a HMO in a property with 5 persons and meets all of the criteria for being a rogue landlord and be subject to a £30,000 fine and to go on to the rogue landlord list for letting out a bedroom that is less than 70 square feet.

Source: Bedroom taxed tenants fined £30k for following Tory advice! | Speye Joe


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Tories sneak out announcement of £4.64 billion social rent increase – Speye Joe

Good work from Joe Halewood here:

The Tories think social landlords deserve 4 times the increase of a police officer, nurse or teacher as that is what they announced.

How nice of the Conservatives to announce … that social tenants rent will increase by £4.64 billion? What? You missed this and thought yesterday was about the Tories and more council housing?

UPDATE: To avoid any confusion the £4.64 billion social tenant rent increase figure is the cost in 2024/25 and for that year only. The cumulative cost over the 5 year period is £13.56 billion more in social rent from £858m more in 2020/21; £1.75bn more in 2021/22; £2.68bn more in 2022/23; £3.64bn in 2023/24 and £4.64bn more in 2024/25 – £13.56 billion in social housing rent increases the Tories announced yesterday!

That council housing won’t happen by the way but there is little doubt about the £4.64 billion that social tenants will be shafted for in 2025.

 

The CPI+1% rent rises based on current CPI will see the social housing rent roll increase from £22 billion to £26.64 billion an increase of 21% or so.

Note too that these are cautiously low figures (a) ignore any average rent rises between 2016 and 2020 and (b) any increased percentage of affordable (sic) rent properties and (c) assume no overall increase in the numbers of social housing properties from 2016 to 2020 – yet all things being equal:

  • It means the overall Housing Benefit bill will increase by £3.47 billion
  • This rental increase of £4.64 billion far outweighs the £2 billion that Theresa May allegedly made available yesterday
  • This 21% rent increase will mean that many more of the 385,000 prospective social housing tenants will be refused social housing as they will be hit by the overall benefit cap policy and the LHA Maxima Cap policy and go straight to the homeless queue
  • Supported housing will close altogether unless the Tories give 21% more to local councils in the LHA Maxima Cap pot
  • Bedroom Tax will increase 21%
  • Many more existing tenants will also find their Housing Benefit cut as they too will be hit by the stagnating overall benefit cap figure of £20,000 per year.
  • DHP demand will easily double and local council tax levels will have to rocket to pay for massively increased homelessness costs
  • Homelessness will rocket even further because of this inflation busting rent increase as will rough sleeping.

Source: Tories sneak out announcement of £4.64 billion social rent increase – Speye Joe

Will direct payment cost social landlords £1.27 BILLION PER YEAR? – SPeye Joe

housingbenefit

Here’s a piece that builds on the warning that social housing tenants are likely to default on their rent if they believe their landlords are failing to carry out important maintenance work. Yr Obdt Srvt has experience of this but we’ll let Joe Halewood’s article speak for itself first:

This week Moodys, the ratings agency, getting very twitchy and saying that Universal Credit with its monthly payment of benefit to tenants and its direct payment of housing benefit to tenants rather than to social landlords as now, will see costs increase by 6.6%.  In a piece in Inside Housing it said that Moodys…

“…warned that the payment of benefit for housing costs to tenants ‘is likely to increase the risk of non-payment or underpayment of rent’. It pointed to an average 6.6% fall in rent payments recorded under Department for Work and Pensions demonstration projects trialling the payment of direct benefit.”

6.6%?

Inside Housing didn’t comment on this (now there’s a surprise!!) but they should and everyone involved in social housing should sit up and take notice. The national rent roll, the sum of all social housing rents is about £19.5 billion per year (4.1m rents at circa £90pw) so 6.6% of that is £1.27 BILLION PER YEAR

Welfare reform (sic) policy will directly lead to £1.27 BILLION less paid in rent to social landlords each year!!

If, as is widely reported, the bedroom tax has seen about £140 million or so increase in arrears to landlords then direct payments risk at £1.27 Billion is more than EIGHT times a greater financial risk.

An officer from the Welsh Assembly’s fair rent tribunal, with lawyer in tow, visited Vox Political Towers earlier this week (Mrs Mike having appealed against a bid to increase the amount of rent considered ‘fair’ on the building).

As the grounds of the complaint were mainly to do with the landlords’ failure to uphold their side of the contract (by not carrying out repairs, and with work such as grounds maintenance (grass cutting) taking place far less frequently than agreed), this was a perfect opportunity to point out, not only that awarding an undeserved ‘fair rent’ will merely add a burden to the taxpayer in housing benefit, but also that Universal Credit payments to tenants will mean a huge loss of income for social landlords as tenants withhold the money while they wait for the repairs they deserve.

There was no response other than acknowledgement of the comment but when this bomb drops – and it will – at least the authorities will not be able to say they weren’t warned.

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The bedroom tax vote – Why I won’t be yodelling naked!!! – SPeye Joe

The bedroom tax vote will NOT, I repeat NOT change the policy ahead of the General Election in May 2015.  The events surrounding it may cause all sorts of political shake ups but the vote will NOT change the bedroom tax for tenants or landlords affected by it before the next General Election, writes Joe Halewood on his SPeye Joe blog.

It will change diddly squat, nil, zip, nada, and absolutely bugger all …just in case you haven’t yet got the picture.  So, please, please, please ignore all the absolute crap you read about this vote and what it means for the bedroom tax.  It means that the bedroom tax will NOT change one iota before the next General Election.

You can read the rest of the article on SPeye Joe but the long and the short of it is, he’s right. The earliest the Affordable Housing Bill could become law is after the next General Election.

That’s not really the point, though, is it?

The point is that the Conservatives have been defeated in a vote on one of their principle policies of repression and their Coalition allies, the Liberal Democrats, have split from them on this matter.

While we must all acknowledge it is unlikely the Lib Dems have made this move out of any sense of morality – they had no problem with inflicting the Tax on us all in the first place – this means they are looking at the electoral implications.

They have realised that the Bedroom Tax is hugely unpopular and becoming more so by the day.

They have realised they cannot hope to be re-elected in useful numbers if they continue to support it.

The Conservatives – from the way they behaved on Friday, have not.

Tick tock, Tory boys…

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Direct Payments – the tenant moves from captive customer to real customer – SPeye Joe

housingbenefit

It seems the government has actually imposed a ‘welfare reform’ that could give benefit claimants an advantage (for a change)!

Joe Halewood, over on the SPeye Joe blog, reckons the move to Direct Payments for social housing tenants will give them far more power – if they are willing to grasp it.

He writes: “3.4 million or so social housing tenants have their rent paid through Housing Benefit. This goes directly to the social landlord with the HB money never passing through the tenants hands.  Landlords like this arrangement and have become accustomed to it.  Tenants like this too as they have never had to worry about paying rent if on benefit.

“To put that into context the coalition admits 1.4 million of social housing HB claimants are not affected by any welfare reform policy by being pensioners and so this DP change will affect the other 2 million social housing tenants of working-age who claim HB.  Eventually that is 2 million rent accounts each week that will be affected and 2 million rent accounts with rent payments no longer guaranteed.   Social housing has just over 4 million tenant households so DP sees a change from roughly two in every three rents being guaranteed by Housing Benefit to just 1.4 million being guaranteed out of 4 million or about one in three.

“The coalition says in its spin on DP that it wants to make tenants more responsible by paying them directly so that they can pay the landlord. This is an issue of control between tenant and social landlord with the current system seeing landlords in control of the payment of rent: Yet that changes with DP which puts the responsibility and the control of rent payment with the social tenant – and that is a monumental change as the social tenant finally becomes the customer is what DP means.

“Social landlords’ service levels vary significantly and tenants currently have little clout in forcing their landlord to undertake repairs or the like.  Yet that changes dramatically with DP as the tenant becomes in control of the payment of rent.  If and when the tenant has any form of beef with the landlord he can potentially, and will in practice, withhold rent.  It makes no difference that social tenants withholding rent while awaiting repair has a highly dubious legal basis as tenants will withhold rent for this reason in far greater numbers.”

There are problems with this – the social landlord can try legal action if there is a belief that the tenant’s complaint is unfounded – but if large numbers of tenants all acted at the same time, they would be swamped.

It is an interesting spin on the usual story fed to us by local authorities (who currently pay Housing Benefit). They say DP means tenants who are unused to paying their own rent will find it hard to keep up payments because they will be tempted to use the money on other necessities (for which they don’t have enough).

The suggestion that they will use the money as leverage to force landlords into complying with their legal responsibilities is far more empowering – and no doubt exactly what the oppressors in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition don’t want.

Read the SPeye Joe blog article here.

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Bedroom tax death inquest to take place – at long last

Bedroom tax victim? Stephanie Bottrill, the woman who walked in front of a lorry after the Bedroom Tax - apparently imposed on her in error - left her without enough money to make ends meet.

Bedroom tax victim? Stephanie Bottrill, the woman who walked in front of a lorry after the Bedroom Tax – apparently imposed on her in error – left her without enough money to make ends meet.

UPDATE 12.34pm, August 12: The Coroner’s Officer for Birmingham and Solihull has just reported that the inquest took place THIS MORNING. Vox Political is currently trying to get details of what was said.

An inquest into the death of a grandmother who was hit by a lorry on a motorway after reportedly leaving a note blaming the Government is to take place soon – more than a year after the collision.

Stephanie Bottrill, 53, of Solihull, West Midlands, died in the early hours of May 4 last year, after the accident on the M6, just a short walk from her home.

Her family was reported as saying she had left a note describing how she could no longer afford £20 a week extra after the Bedroom Tax – sometimes called the State Under-Occupation Charge – was applied to her terraced home.

Just days before dying, Miss Bottrill told neighbours in Meriden Drive she could barely afford to live while others spoke of having to take meals round because they were worried she was not eating.

It was later revealed that Mrs Bottrill was exempt from the Bedroom Tax as she had been occupying the same property since before January 1996.

The inquest is due to be held at Birmingham Coroner’s Court.

Vox Political has covered this affair in detail in the past.

The blog has also worked hard to ensure the public does not forget what happened.

In January this year, VP wrote:

She had lived in the same Solihull house for the previous 18 years (since 1995). Recent revelations by Joe Halewood at SPeye have shown that this meant she was exempt from paying the charge under the Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (Consequential Provisions) Regulations 2006.

The government has a duty of care in these matters. It may not impose charges on people who are exempt under legislation that is currently in force, nor may it demand that local authorities should do so. If a person dies as a result of such action, then the government is guilty of a very specific criminal offence.

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, an organisation is guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death; and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased.

An organisation is guilty of an offence if the way in which its activities are managed or organised by its senior management is a substantial element in the breach.

It seems clear – from the suicide note at the very least – that this is an open-and-shut case.

We’ll find out soon.

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My Bedroom Tax protest speech

Standing in the shadow of a giant: Vox Political's Mike Sivier (front) at 'Cooper Corner', with Caerphilly Castle in the background.

Standing in the shadow of a giant: Vox Political’s Mike Sivier (front) at ‘Cooper Corner’, with Caerphilly Castle in the background.

Vox Political was relatively quiet yesterday; although I reblogged plenty of articles from other sources, there was no new piece from the site itself because I was in Caerphilly, delivering a speech at a Bedroom Tax protest there.

Caerphilly is the birthplace of the late, great comic Tommy Cooper, and it was in the shadow of his statue that the demonstration took place. I instantly (and privately) named the location ‘Cooper Corner’.

I took the opportunity to lighten proceedings at the start by suggesting that Mr Cooper (albeit in petrified effigy) would be providing the jokes. I held the microphone up towards the statue. “Anything? No? No. I didn’t think so.” Turning back to the crowd I added: “The Bedroom Tax is no laughing matter.” Then I got into the body of the speech:

“I write a small blog called Vox Political. I started it a couple of years ago as an attempt to put in writing what a reasonable, thinking person might have to say about government policies in these years of forced austerity, and politics in general.

“As you can probably imagine, this means I knew about the Bedroom Tax, several months before it was actually imposed on us all. I was writing articles warning people against it from October 2012. The trouble was, Vox Political is a small blog that even now has only a few thousand readers a day – and the mainstream media has been almost entirely bought by a political machine with far more funding than I have.

“It is a tax, by the way. You may have heard a lot of nonsense that it isn’t, but consider it this way: a tax is defined as a compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government against a citizen’s person, property or activity, to support government policies.

“It is not a ‘spare-room subsidy’. If anyone in authority tries to tell you you’re having your ‘spare-room subsidy’ removed (or more likely, imposed, they’re so confused about this), just tell them to go and find the Act of Parliament that introduced the ‘spare room subsidy’, using those words. Tell them if they can find it, you’ll pay it – but if they can’t, they must not take any money away from you. They won’t be able to find it because it doesn’t exist.

“It is more accurately described as the ‘State Underoccupation Charge’ – SUC! And it really does suck.

“It sucks money that social housing tenants need for food, heat, water and other necessities out of their pockets and forces them to send it to their landlord instead – either the local council or a social landlord like a housing association. The reasoning behind it has always been that this would encourage people to move, but in fact we know that there is no social accommodation for them to move into. When the Bedroom Tax became law, there was only enough smaller housing to accommodate around 15 per cent of the affected households. It is clearly a trap, designed to make poor people poorer.

“This is why the first advice I put on my blog was for anyone affected by the Bedroom Tax to appeal against it – and I was criticised quite harshly for it, because some people decided such action would mark tenants out as troublemakers and create more problems for them. At the time, I thought it was right to give some of the aggravation back to the people who were foisting this additional burden onto lower-income families; make them work for it, if they want it so badly. As it turns out, I was right to do so, because there are so many loopholes in the legislation that it seems almost anybody could avoid paying!

“Do you think Stephanie Bottrill would have died if she had known that she could successfully appeal against her Bedroom Tax, on the grounds that she had been a social housing tenant since before January 1996 and was therefore exempt? The government spitefully closed that particular loophole earlier this month, but that lady is already dead, due to a lie. Had she been properly informed, she could have successfully fought it off and then taken advice on how to cope with it after the government amendment was brought in.

“There is a case for corporate manslaughter against the Department for Work and Pensions, right there. If tested in court, it seems likely that the way its activities have been managed and organised by senior management – the fact that it foisted the Bedroom Tax, wrongly, on this lady – will be found to have led to her death, in gross breach of its duty of care to those who claim state benefits (in this case, Housing Benefit).

“David Cameron has wasted a great deal of oxygen telling us all that disabled people are not affected by the tax. Perhaps he could explain why a disabled gentleman in my home town was forced to move out of his specially-adapted home, incurring not only the cost of moving but an extra £5,000 for removing the adaptations and installing them into new accommodation? He appealed against Bedroom Tax decision but the result came back after the date when he had to be out of his home. Can you guess what it was? That’s right – he won. I have been trying to get him to take legal action against the council and the government about this as it would be an important test case.

“There are other grounds for appealing against the Bedroom Tax. Just because your council wants to claim every room that could be a bedroom is a bedroom, that doesn’t make it so. A fellow blogger, Joe Halewood, has published a list of other room designations that you are allowed to have.

“It includes a study, a utility room, a play room, even an Iain Duncan Smith voodoo doll-making room, if that takes your fancy!

“I was particularly happy to hear that you can have a study as I’ve been writing my blog from the broom cupboard – oh! That’s another room you can have!

“Check the DWP’s online forms. They ask about bedrooms, and then they ask about other rooms. The distinction is clear.”

Then I closed the speech. In retrospect, I should have finished with a few words about the fact that this was the first bit of public speaking I had ever done. I could have given them something along these lines: “I am aware that speech-making is a lucrative sideline for many people, including comedians (although I’m not aware that Mr Cooper ever made any) and also politicians. Perhaps I should use this platform to suggest that, if you know anybody who is considering booking a speaker for a special occasion – society dinner, rugby club social, wedding or party, why not ask them to get in touch with me – instead of Iain Duncan Smith!”

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Was Stephanie Bottrill a victim of corporate manslaughter?

140111Stephanie-Bottrill

It’s what we all feared, as soon as we found out that people who have been in the same social housing since before 1996 are exempt from the Bedroom Tax:

Stephanie Bottrill, the grandmother who committed suicide because she could not afford to pay the Bedroom Tax, was one of those who should never have been asked to pay.

She took her own life by walking in front of a lorry on the M6 in May last year, just one month after the Bedroom Tax – sometimes called the State Under-Occupation Charge – had been introduced by Iain Duncan Smith. Her rent at the time was £320 per month, some of which was subsidised by Housing Benefit – but the imposition of an extra £80 charge, to come from her own money, was too much for her finances to take.

She left a note to relatives in which she made clear that she had taken her own life – and that she blamed the government.

She had lived in the same Solihull house for the previous 18 years (since 1995). Recent revelations by Joe Halewood at SPeye have shown that this meant she was exempt from paying the charge under the Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (Consequential Provisions) Regulations 2006.

The government has a duty of care in these matters. It may not impose charges on people who are exempt under legislation that is currently in force, nor may it demand that local authorities should do so. If a person dies as a result of such action, then the government is guilty of a very specific criminal offence.

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, an organisation is guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death; and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased.

An organisation is guilty of an offence if the way in which its activities are managed or organised by its senior management is a substantial element in the breach.

It seems clear – from the suicide note at the very least – that this is an open-and-shut case.

Will we soon see Iain Duncan Smith – or better still, David Cameron – in court?

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