The Department for Work and Pensions is considering issuing fresh guidance to councils and tribunals following four successful appeals against the bedroom tax. It will consider whether Fife Council or the first-tier tribunal misunderstood the bedroom tax process. Housing experts are split over the significance of the rulings.
Although they do not set a legal precedent, campaigners argue the rulings will provide fresh hope for tenants who believe they are unfairly affected. Annie Harrower-Gray, a tenant of Kingdom Housing Association, had her appeal against Fife Council’s decision to cut her benefit upheld by a first-tier tribunal following a hearing on 26 August.
The DWP has not defined a bedroom, and has said it is up to landlords to ‘accurately describe the property’. This has led councils, which award benefit, to rely on data about property sizes supplied by associations.
Fife Council cut Ms Harrower-Gray’s benefit because KHA said her home was a three-bedroom property.
Simon Collins QC, tribunal chair, cited room size, shape and intended use to rule that two of the three rooms were incorrectly designated as bedrooms. He said councils were entitled to rely on landlords for information, but said this is not ‘determinative’. In another case, Mr Collins reportedly found a room was too small to be a bedroom because it was less than 50 square feet. Overall, four out of five appeals brought with the assistance of the Fife Law Centre were upheld.
Despite the fact the legal rulings set no precedent, campaigners believe other tribunals may look at the Fife rulings for guidance. Joe Halewood, a housing consultant, said: ‘This could bolster the appeals of those currently appealing and encourage others who haven’t already done so to appeal.’
Fife Council said the bedroom tax is ‘unworkable’, and that the rulings conflicted with guidance from the Chartered Institute of Housing, which referred to existing DWP guidance, saying it is up to landlords to describe properties.
The CIH and the National Housing Federation played down the significance.
Source: Inside Housing
13th September 2013