Hundreds to be recompensed after Government ‘bedroom tax’error

Kensington Fields

Hundreds of Liverpool people wrongly hit by the so-called ‘bedroom tax’, after the discovery of a legal loophole, are to receive rebates, following action taken by the city council.

More than 700 local people are set to receive awards typically of £560 or more per claimant within the next two weeks, after a month of work, which has seen the Council’s benefits service and the city’s major housing associations examining their databases to identify exempt households.

Officers have looked at tenancy and housing benefit records and Council Tax liability details – as well as responding to tenants who have got in touch because they believe they are exempt.

With the initial 700 affected claimants now to receive rebates, totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds, partners are reviewing a further 1,000 cases which have been identified as potentially exempt.

It follows a pledge last month from the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson – when the error was announced by the Department for Work and Pensions – to identify affected claimants in the city and ensure they are recompensed. The Mayor also wrote to landlords asking them to halt any potential legal action over bedroom tax while enquiries were being made.

Mayor Anderson said: “I promised to do everything in my power to make sure that any Liverpool resident who has been wrongly affected by this Government error gets back every penny they are entitled to. I have been delighted with the willingness of our social landlords to work with us to identify exempt tenants and to put any bedroom tax legal action on hold, while these assessments are on-going.

“At a time when so many local people are struggling, it’s more important than ever that we work together to support them. Thanks to these efforts, more than 700 Liverpool tenants will be better off. And there may be more to come – we’ll be working hard in the coming weeks to review 1,000 more cases.

“The Government’s welfare reforms are having a devastating impact on the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society. This is just one aspect of the work we continue to do to assist all those who continue to suffer.

“We have already made over 6,000 Discretionary Housing Payments awards, totalling £1.8 million, to help people who are in arrears with their rent, and we have invested a further £350,000 in the fund for this year.

“We have also set up the Tackling Poverty Action Group, supporting food banks through the Mayor’s Hope Fund and have given £1 million to credit unions to prevent people turning to loan sharks.”

The Government’s under-occupation penalty sees benefit reductions of up to 25% for working age social housing tenants who are deemed to have more bedrooms than they need. It was introduced by the Government last year, and affects around 11,000 people in Liverpool.

The Department of Work and Pensions announced in January that an error when drafting the legislation means that tenants are exempt from the penalty if:

• They have been continuously entitled to housing benefit since 1 January 1996 (breaks of four weeks or less are ignored) and were under 45 years old in 1996, and:.

• They have occupied the same dwelling since that date (except for any period where a fire, flood, explosion or natural catastrophe made the property uninhabitable).

Any tenant who thinks the bedroom tax exemption applies to them should talk to their landlord and let the Benefits Service know by letter, by email (Benefits.Service@liverpooldirectlimited.co.uk) or by calling the city council on 0151 233 3009.

The city council is urging any residents threatened with eviction as a result of the under-occupation penalty to get in contact to see if they can make a claim for a Discretionary Housing Payment, to help them cover rent arrears. Tenants who want to make a claim should call 0151 233 3009 or can download a form to apply at www.liverpool.gov.uk

Identifying affected claimants

• Liverpool, like many other cities, has faced challenges in pulling together the required exemption evidence going back to 1996, because local authorities and Registered Providers are not allowed to hold information for that long, under data protection rules.

• The city has been drawing down the ‘best available’ evidence to provide to the Department for Work and Pensions, with the Council contacting Registered Housing Providers to request that they identify tenancies which they believe to have been continuously on benefit since 1996.

• The city council has also obtained specialist Northgate information management software to assist the benefits team in identifying all affected claimants and awarding rebates.

• The Department for Work and Pensions has indicated that the law will be amended so that the ‘under-occupation penalty’ can be reapplied to these exempt cases at a future date.