DWP: 'Less than 5,000 are exempt from paying bedroom tax'
Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Bill Payments, Central Government
DWP: 'Fewer than 5,000 will be exempt from paying bedroom tax'
The Department for Work and Pensions said the number of housing benefit recipients who are exempt from paying the bedroom tax due to a legal loophole is estimated to be "less than 5,000".
A spokesman for the DWP today said it "didn't recognise" the figure of 40,000 quoted in The Guardian newspaper and said the estimates put forward by "so-called housing experts" were "most likely balderdash".
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 spokesman said the DWP was taking steps to remedy the situation and the loophole was likely to be closed in the next set of regulations published in April. He added that if required the government could pass emergency legislation to rectify the matter but given the numbers involved didn't think this would be necessary.
In its advice to local authorities, the DWP said: "Some claimants may already have contacted you about this and requested payment of arrears. However, many claimants will not be aware of this issue. You should therefore consider whether you are reasonably able to identify potentially affected claimants from your own records.
"However if this situation comes to light local authorities (LAs) should not revise awards unless they are satisfied on the basis of evidence that the claimant satisfies the criteria.
"Once LAs are satisfied that a claimant’s eligible rent should not have been reduced the existing decision must be revised to remove the under-occupancy reduction in the claimant’s HB from 1 April 2013 until the legislation is amended.
"This means that arrears of HB will be due from 1 April 2013 to the date of reassessment."
Chris Bryant MP, Labour's shadow minister for welfare reform, said: "This is the latest example of the chaos and confusion within the Department of Work and Pensions under Iain Duncan Smith.
"Rather than closing loopholes in the policy, the government should scrap their hated bedroom tax. If they don't, the next Labour government will."