Exemption for some from bedroom tax deductions?
The bedroom tax, which was introduced last April, sees social housing tenants stripped of up to 25% of their housing benefit if they are deemed to be under-occupying their homes. However the Department for Work (DWP) and Pensions issued an urgent statement in January 2014 acknowledging a loophole that means some social housing tenants could be exempt from the bedroom tax.
When the DWP designed the under-occupancy policy (bedroom tax), they neglected to take into consideration specific issues outlined in the eligible rent calculation outlined in paragraph 4(1)(a) of Schedule 3 of the Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (Consequential Provisions) Regulations 2006 (Consequential Provisions Regulations),thus providing hope for some long term housing benefit claimants, particularly those who have had a long term disability. Anti-bedroom tax campaigner Joe Halewood who attended our recent conference and facilitated recent appeal workshops suggested that thousands of tenants across the country may be exempt from the policy as a consequence. However the DWP has indicated that a “small number of claimants” may be entitled to have their full housing benefit reinstated, they will close the loophole. While there are wide variances in the potential numbers impacted, clearly in areas of high deprivation in Wales, where some communities were devastated by the closure of the industries, there will be many who fall into this category.
The Chartered Institute of Housing’s director of policy and practice, Gavin Smart, said: “It’s important that social landlords are aware of the loophole and take steps to make sure tenants are aware of it too so they are able to obtain reimbursement if they fall into this category”. Local authorities are also likely to face significant administrative challenges in identifying the tenants affected as well as social landlords who will receive requests or assistance from their tenants as most landlords will have records dating back many years.
What this means for tenants, is that if they have been continuously claiming housing benefit since 1st January 1996 or before, while living in the same property, they are immune from the bedroom tax housing benefit deduction. This overlooked aspect of Housing benefit regulation opens the door for potential appeals and refunds for people hit by the policy.
So who qualifies?
- Any housing benefit claimant who has claimed continuously since on or before 1 January 1996.
- There can have been up to a four week break in entitlement.
- There can be an up to 52 week break in entitlement if the claimant became a Welfare to Work recipient and was so at the time entitlement stopped.
- Same property – It has to have been the same property throughout, save for exceptions specified at 4(3)(a)(ii) i.e. the dwelling occupied was not the same by reason only that the change was caused by a fire, flood, explosion or natural catastrophe rendering the dwelling occupied as the home on the first date uninhabitable; and [the HB claim was continuous as above]
- There are also provisions if you have succeeded the property as a partner of the previous beneficiary (Sections 4(5) to 4(7)) or family member succeeding where you would inherit the exemption.
We advise that if you do meet the conditions above then you should write to your housing benefit department requesting a ‘mandatory reconsideration’ of the housing benefit deduction and requesting your housing benefit should be re-instated immediately and backdated till the 1st April 2013.