Saturday, 7 June 2014

Four ways to help tenants appeal against the bedroom tax

By helping tenants in bedroom tax appeals, housing providers can bring more money into communities and minimise arrears
On the same page: making sure everyone is aware of the facts can give an appeal force.
On the same page: making sure everyone is aware of the facts can give an appeal force. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
As the bedroom tax affects housing providers as well as their tenants, many social landlords have explored ways of helping their residents beat the bedroom tax. However the sector and its tenants may not be fully aware of the success of a number of court battles against the bedroom tax which have led to exemptions.
Some providers have reclassified their properties (called a three-bed home a two-bed home) to help tenants avoid the bedroom tax, but this can undermine landlords' financial viability and can lead to unfair discrepancies in rent across organisations' portfolios.
Lodging an appeal and qualifying for an exemption, meanwhile, has none of these drawbacks and, because successful appeals see tenants reimbursed for bedroom tax funds from the date of the appeal, are also the most effective at clearing arrears which may have built up.
1. Understand what could qualify for a bedroom tax exemption
It's important to understand what grounds have been successful in tenants being exempted from the bedroom tax. Established grounds for judicial exemption can be broadly categorised as:
• Where a tenant requires an overnight carer.
• Where a tenant cannot share a bed due to disability.
• If a home has undergone extensive adaptations for a disability.
• If the spare room measures less than 70sq ft.
• If the bedroom has not been used nor furnished as a bedroom.
• If a tenant has partial custody of a child who occasionally stays in the property.
2. Use support organisations
Know your local area's support organisations and use their expertise in helping with appeals because it can make a real difference. Nationally, 58% of appeals are likely to succeed, but in Liverpool (where the support group Reclaim and others offer help, alongside a supportive council) the figure is closer to 85%. In our experience of helping lodge more than 300 appeals, when they are successful, landlords, tenants and local authorities all benefit from fewer arrears and less homelessness costs.
3. Partner up
The sheer number of people affected by the bedroom tax can make organisations worried about whether they have enough staff to help out with tenant appeals. However, working with partners who you can refer tenants towards goes a long way to addressing such concerns. Try also working with the third sector as landlords will not always be best placed to support a tenant through the process.
4. Keep your staff up to date
There is little point in your frontline staff informing tenants of their rights to appeal if your frontline staff themselves are not kept in the loop. Out of the 310 people we have worked with during appeals, the overwhelming majority said they had previously not appealed because they had not been told they could, or because their landlord told them they were not able to. Keep in touch with your council's local housing benefitdepartment and keep your frontline staff informed of the latest updates so they can offer tenants the correct advice.
Jamie Insole is a trade union organiser who coordinates the Cardiff and South Wales Against the Bedroom Tax federation of local tenant groups

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