MP questions bedroom tax debacle as council slams 'administrative nightmare'
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Central Government, Local Government, Regulation
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An MP has asked questions in Parliament concerning the recent revelation that some social housing tenants are legally exempt from the bedroom tax.
It was revealed last week that a little known piece of legislation brought in by the last Labour government legally excludes people from being hit by the controversial under-occupancy policy if they have been continuously claiming housing benefit for over 17 years from the same property.
It seems the Department for Work and Pensions overlooked the legislation while drafting the policy.
Now John Healey, Labour MP for Wentworth and Dearne, has asked the secretary of state, Iain Duncan Smith, to establish how many people the government believes have been affected and what action it is taking to reimburse those who have been illegally charged.
The questions are due to be answered today (14 January).
Some sources have estimated that up to 40,000 people across the country have been wrongly paying the bedroom tax since its April 2013 introduction, and now could be eligible for refunds. However, the DWP has said it believes the number to be around 5,000.
The bedroom tax sees working age social housing tenants docked up to 25% of their housing benefit if they are deemed to be under-occupying their homes.
Healey said: “The bedroom tax is hitting disabled and vulnerable people with an average bill of £720 a year.
“It’s a callous, heartless and reckless policy that has forced families to use food banks and could end up costing more than it saves.
“The bedroom tax has always been badly thought through. Now we know the government have levied the tax illegally in some cases.
“It’s going to be a big job for councils to put this right and put the money back in people’s pockets.
“Instead of changing it, the government should scrap the bedroom tax immediately and if they don’t, Labour will.”
Meanwhile, a Birmingham City Council councillor has slammed the DWP's oversight in its drafting of the bedroom tax and has said that it represents an "administrative nightmare" for councils.
Cllr John Cotton, cabinet member for social cohesion and equalities, said: "This probably shouldn't surprise anyone. We've known all along that the bedroom tax was a rushed and ill-conceived policy.
"We are in the process of identifying both the council tenants and the tenants of registered social landlords in Birmingham that meet the criteria and will therefore be entitled to have housing benefit re-instated.
"It will of course mean good news for some households - we don't yet know quite how many people this will in Birmingham - but dealing with this represents an administrative nightmare for councils that could easily have been avoided.
"The bedroom tax is putting a huge strain on thousands of vulnerable people in Birmingham and the people affected by this error will now find they've had almost a year of hardship and worry for absolutely no reason. Some may even have moved from long-standing family homes."
Last week, Exeter City Council became the first local authority in the country to confirm if had identified cases where bedroom tax refunds were due as a consequence of the uncovered legislation.
The council said it had found that 31 (4.5%) of its 624 tenants hit by the policy should have been exempt.
If Exeter's percentage of 4.5% was used a guide for the country as a whole, the figure would be around 29,700 people in the UK who have been illegally hit by the bedroom tax.