Tuesday, 17 January 2017

DWP confirms temporary bedroom tax loophole

Thousands of social housing tenants will be temporarily exempted from the bedroom tax as a result of a ‘technical error’ in legislation.

The Department for Work and Pensions yesterday issued an ‘urgent bulletin’ saying tenants meeting specific criteria should have the cut in their bedroom tax removed until legislation is amended. The DWP also said councils should refund deductions made since last April.

The exemption applies to tenants who have been continuously claiming housing benefit from before 1 January 1996 and have lived at the same address.

This is because the ‘eligible rent’ referred to in bedroom tax regulations does not apply prior to 1 January 1996, when a previous set of rules existed. A number of housing experts told Inside Housing yesterday, before the DWP’s circular, that tenants would have a good chance of using the loophole to overturn benefit decisions at tribunal.

The loophole was discovered by housing benefit specialist Peter Barker, after hearing that a tribunal judge had asked whether a tenant had been claiming since 1996.

Mr Barker, who estimates that up to 10,000 tenants could be affected, said: ‘This is 100 per cent watertight as far as I can see.’ Mr Barker said if tenants take ‘reasonable’ steps to try to show they qualify, and the council can’t disprove it, they stand a good chance of winning at a tribunal.

Sam Lister, policy and practice officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing, also said that claimants would stand a chance of overturning benefit decisions. He said: ‘This is a potential way out but until a case is decided by the upper tribunal we won’t know for certain.’

Tenants still of working age who have been unable to work long-term due to sickness or disability are those most likely to benefit from the exemption. The exemption applies to tenants who have had a break in benefit entitlement of no more than four weeks.

The DWP is likely to close the loophole by changing the regulations and the bulletin suggests legislation will be amended. The department’s bulletin said: ‘The department will however be taking steps to remedy this shortly.’

A spokesperson for the DWP said it believes ‘very few’ tenants will be affected.

To read more about the bedroom tax click here.

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