Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Tenant wins appeal against the bedroom tax

A tenant has won one of the first tribunal appeals against the bedroom tax.

Annie Harrower-Gray had her appeal against Fife Council’s decision to cut her benefit upheld by a first-tier tribunal in Scotland following a hearing on 26 August.

Under the bedroom tax, social housing households of working age have their benefit cut if they are deemed to have spare bedrooms. The Department for Work and Pensions has not defined a bedroom, saying it is up to landlords to ‘accurately describe the property in line with the actual rent charged’. Councils are responsible for awarding the benefit using information provided by the social landlord.

Fife Council implemented a cut in Ms Harrower-Gray’s benefit, on the basis she is living alone in a three bedroom property, which is owned by Kingdom Housing Association. The tribunal found however that the property has only one bedroom.

Ms Harrower-Gray’s home dates from 1660 and may have at one time been part of a manse, the tribunal ruling says. This means it has ‘an unusual and irregular layout and non-standard apartments.’ The ruling, by tribunal judge Simon Collins QC, added that due to the age of the property and ‘clumsy internal rearrangement’, ‘it is not possible for me to say…whether any particular apartment was originally designed to fulfil any particular purpose.’

The tribunal found one of the rooms in the property had a ‘long established use…as a sitting room’ and not as a bedroom. It said there was no evidence that another small room, near a kitchen, was ever intended for use as a bedroom. Another room is described as having an irregular ‘l’ shape, is small, and has a low combed ceiling and had a ‘recessed dormer window’. It was described by Ms Harrower-Gray’s solicitor as a ‘horrible dark space.’ Mr Collins said: ‘There was no evidence before me to suggest that this room was ever intended for use as a bedroom.’

First-tier tribunal decisions do not set a legal precedent, meaning the ruling will not have a direct impact on any other cases.

Sam Lister, policy and practice officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing played down the significance of the ruling, saying it is limited to the facts of the individual case. He said it does not mean councils have to visit every property to ensure landlords’ descriptions of property sizes are accurate.

He said: ‘This is a pretty unusual property. Given that context you can understand why the judge has said “why haven’t you visited the property?’

He said in most situations a council can be reasonably confident of the property sizes. ‘This kind of situation doesn’t apply where you have standard layouts, which most social housing properties are,’ he said. ‘There can’t be many social housing properties which date back to 1660.’

Mr Lister added that the burden is on the claimant to provide evidence that the housing benefit award is wrong. He said the case does not mean large numbers of appeals would have a realistic chance of success.

Readers' comments (44)

  • Melvin Bone

    So every tenant in a 17th century house may stand a chance at appeal then.

    Not really a precedent that will effect many.

    It shows more than anything that the appeals process works...

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  • Colin McCulloch

    Indeed Melvin. I think it gives hope that appeals will be listened to fairly. If "regular" claimants start winning, then who knows what can happen?

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  • How long did it take?

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  • Would this mean that the tenant has been over-charged for the previous period, for the two-bedrooms that do not exist, and is therefore entitled to a considerable rebate against the previous rent values paid?

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  • Joe Halewood

    Oh dear!

    I see IH and CIH is doing all it can to downplay this case and the article is a sweeping statement with many many points omitted from the judgement which I posted on Friday and do please read it and make your own mind up

    So the landlord says its a 3 bed, the council imposes the bedroom tax, tenant appeals and judge rules its a 1 bed - just a tad of significance there as to how the landlords word cannot be relied upon.

    The judge also says the landlords word is no determinative

    The judge rules a 67sq/ft room is NOT a bedroom

    The judge rules another bedroom is in fact a dining room

    The judge discusses and open the door wide open for appeal challenges on:

    room size
    usable floor space
    room usage (substantive and historic)
    appropriateness of a room being deemed a bedroom
    if a room if reasonably fit to be deemed a bedroom
    light within a room
    whether a room contains a gas fire

    and so much more.

    Yet the above whitewash fails to discuss these points!!! As I say read the judgment itself a mere three pages and contained in my post on this above.

    Yes the article and comment above is from the same CIH that used this site to dismiss my arguments about mass appeals and saying they wouldn't work and had no legitimate basis!! The CIH as judge jury and executioner and now of propaganda writ large, deliberate error of omission and commission and lets hope no one notices!!!

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  • Joe Halewood

    In short this judgment will encourage those who have not appealed to appeal and those that already have appealed to bolster their appeal grounds using this judgment.

    To dismiss this case as being about a property built in 1660 is outrageous and disingenuous

    The property has been subject to recent "unsympathetic subdivision and clusmsy internal arrangement to reach its present state" (para 10) Now I wonder who did that? Oh yes the landlord who then went on to state it was a 3 bed property that the judge has ruled is a 1 bed.

    So what is the relevance of it being originally built in 1660?

    Whitewash article!! Deeply offensive and error strewn

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  • Disengenuous at best you are correct Joe, as many "bedrooms" wouldn't hold a cot let alone a single bed, yet the tenant will be subject to the bedroom tax.

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  • Jude McKenzie

    The property has been subject to recent "unsympathetic subdivision and clusmsy internal arrangement to reach its present state" I hope the landlord had permission to hack up what will probably qualify as a listed building.

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  • Joe Halewood

    I see the 'brilliant' CIH believe this is insignificant!

    I am just wondering how much less the former 3 bed now 1 bed property of Kingdom Housing Association is worth?

    I am also wondering what housing associations will do when this court decision is replicated and their asset values plummet and the HAs loans are renegotiated at higher interest rates or are withdrawn.

    Nah no need to worry IH and CIH say this is insignificant just tell your lenders that ok!

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  • @Mr Webb | 09/09/2013 9:18 am

    Would this mean that the tenant has been over-charged for the previous period, for the two-bedrooms that do not exist, and is therefore entitled to a considerable rebate against the previous rent values paid?

    I think this is what has SRS landlords running so scared they were initially prepared to play government BT enforcers.

    The fiction that the 1985 Act does not apply to SRS properties means that should the BT room size criteria be applied as it should, some tenants may be due a refunded 38 years worth of overpayed rent!

    Whichever way you look at it, the true quarry behind BT policy increasingly looks to be social landlords. Let's face it, individual households in need of HB represent a low yield in terms of recoverable public money but multi million pound mega organisations represent a massive opportunity for speculators sniffing at the trough. All that 'charitable status excess turnover' probably seems quite appealing to those commercial concerns that do not enjoy the same tax breaks as social landlords.

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