Rather than go over what has happened this year with the bedroom tax and related issues, I thought I would suggest what the coming year will bring and discuss that instead.
The most obvious fact is sometime in March, social housing tenants will be getting their new Housing Benefit decision notices for the 2014/15 financial year. These new HB decision notices will all have a new set of review and appeal rights for all tenants that receive them, and tenants will be much better prepared to appeal than they were this time last year.
I strongly suspect far more tenants will appeal too for many reasons.
Firstly, many more tenants now know they can appeal and that is more than stating the obvious! In November and December, I delivered a number of bedroom tax appeal workshops to tenant and landlords. Two frontline ‘welfare officers’ for housing associations admitted they did not realise that tenants COULD appeal the bedroom tax! Of course this also meant no tenants were told they could appeal, too. I will publish some of the findings of these appeal workshops soon along with dates of new ones I will be doing from end of January across the country.
Secondly, tenants have seen successful appeals on issues to which they can easily relate. They will think - if a tenant in Scotland can win on room size, they why can’t I in Cornwall? The same applies for the other successful appeal issues - room usage, room purpose and "me or my partner is disabled and need the room and do sleep apart do we can be allowed a bedroom each." I am not saying each case is not fact-specific, as they are, or that an appeal guarantees a win on these issues - rather that people will adopt a strategy of - "if a tenant elsewhere can do it, then why can’t I?"
Thirdly, the bedroom tax and other welfare reforms, such as the abolition of council tax benefit and more, will see tenants adopt an "enough is enough approach" too.
Fourthly, as I have recently promoted, that many tenants have had the bedroom tax imposed in error as they are exempt due to the protection they have on the pre 1996 issue. The general public and tenant awareness of this will only serve to increase the anger over the bedroom tax and increase the desire to get rid of it - and hence more tenants will appeal. (NB there is more on this topic here and the DWP's response here).
Fifthly, social landlords are now checking their records to see if tenants have been in the same properties and in receipt of HB continuously since before 1 January 1996 which makes them exempt from the bedroom tax. Social landlords will score ‘brownie points’ for this in tenant eyes and God knows they need to as despite the bedroom tax creating tension between landlord and tenant directly landlords have been perceived, correctly in my view, by tenants as being heavy-handed in how they have treated bedroom tax-affected tenants and focused primarily on arrears and especially in the first six months of the bedroom tax.
Sixth, there is the beginning of a seachange amongst social landlords who are now starting to see that a tenant appealing the bedroom tax benefits the landlord. What has taken social landlords so long to get to this position God only knows and while there are some honorable and very honorable exceptions, the vast majority of social landlords have not helped their tenants to appeal and just as many haven’t even informed tenants of this - which aside from being an outrage, just doesn’t make any business sense.
Before social landlords cast opprobrium my way for daring to criticise them, however constructively, please look at your landlord's website, which will be riven with welfare reform and bedroom tax pages - yet 99% will state that tenants can appeal the bedroom tax! So my first comment above - that frontline staff in HAs did not know the tenant could appeal - becomes less surprising, but all the more outrageous.
Seventh, landlords have woken up and smelled the coffee in the main. The bedroom tax is an attack on the social housing model itself and on the way “we have always done it” which is the typical view of the notoriously slow-to-change social rented ‘sector.’ Yet it is much more than that and there are still many urgent changes that social landlords need to make and will have to adopt.