Housing benefit claimants exempt from bedroom tax due to legal loophole
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Central Government and also in Housing, Regulation
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The Department for Work and Pensions has issued an urgent statement acknowledging a loophole that means some social housing tenants could be exempt from the bedroom tax.
Under legislation passed by the last Labour government, and apparently overlooked by the DWP when it designed the under-occupancy policy, tenants who have been continuously claiming housing benefit since January 1996 or before while living in the same property are immune from the charge.
The bedroom tax, which was introduced last April, sees social housing tenants stripped of up to 25% of their housing benefit if they are deemed to be under-occupying their homes.
The revelation opens the door for potential repeals and refunds for people hit by the policy contrary to legislation.
The DWP has said that it is aware there are a "small number of claimants may be entitled to have their eligible rent calculated pursuant to paragraph 4(1)(a) of Schedule 3 of the Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (Consequential Provisions) Regulations 2006 (Consequential Provisions Regulations) rather than the provisions which relate to the Removal of the Spare Room Subsidy".
The Department says that it will be taking steps to remedy the situation shortly.
Anti-bedroom tax campaigner Joe Halewood has estimated that up to 100,000 people across the country may be exempt from the policy as a consequence of the legislation.
Mr Halewood told the Morning Star: "The bedroom tax has got so many unforeseen and unintended consequences and this is just another one of them.
"If councils haven't considered this aspect, then every decision they have made is deficient and you have an appeal right against that."
The Chartered Institute of Housing's director of policy and practice, Gavin Smart, said: “It’s important that social landlords are aware of the loophole and take steps to make sure tenants are aware of it too so they are able to obtain reimbursement if they fall into this category.
"However, they also need to keep an eye on the information issued by the Department for Work and Pensions as the loophole is likely to be closed – the bulletin states the department will be taking steps to ‘remedy’ it shortly. Local authorities are likely to face significant administrative challenges in identifying the tenants affected, but social landlords may be able to help with this as they may have records that go back further.”