Single room rate and social housing

[Updated 15 March, see below]

Joe Halewood, who runs a fine blog on supported housing at SPeye, has unearthed a rather alarming statement from the DWP buried in the impact assessment on under occupation changes to HB for social housing from October 2011. The passage (at para 5) reads:

“From 1 April 2013 it is intended to introduce size criteria for new and existing working-age Housing Benefit claimants living in the social rented sector. The size criteria will replicate the size criteria that apply to Housing Benefit claimants in the private rented sector and whose claims are assessed using the local housing allowance rules”

 

The implication is that this would include the shared accommodation/single room limit for single under 35s being applied to social housing. Joe has sought clarification from the DWP and we understand that Inside Housing may have as well, but so far, nothing from the DWP.

Does anyone know anything more about this? The effects could clearly be drastic. And does the DCLG know about this?

[Update 15 March 2012. The position of CIH on this is that the regulations, currently being drafted, have the effect that the power is to make a deduction based on the number of people in relation to the number of bedrooms. Under this method there cannot be anything smaller than one bedroom. We understand that the CIH are involved in the drafting process.

However, this doesn’t explain the use of the word “replicate” in the DWP Impact Assessment. While it appears unlikely that the forthcoming property size regulations will have the effect on the under 35s feared, it would be good to have clarification from the DWP.]

About Giles Peaker

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts, and still is Nearly Legal on Google +.
Posted in Benefits, Housing law - All, Introductory and Demoted tenancies, secure-tenancy.

24 Comments

  1. Yes I can see CLG and DWP having ‘discussions’ over this, though I don’t usually put it as tactfully as that, and as the LHA freeze issue reveals it wouldnt be the first time the left hand doesnt know what the right is doing in that housing relationship.

    Unfortunately, the great and the good of housing dont seem to have a way of drafting a letter to the Ministers involved and forcing him to answer as other professions do. An erroneous or even political answer from Shapps would at least let us know he’s aware of the monumental implications of this issue that he has so far avoided answering.

  2. Pingback: Will SAR apply to social tenants – Yes it seems! « SPeye

  3. The DWP published draft regs in Sept 11(which can be found on the discussion forum of Rightsnet)which state that the single room rent for under 35s will not apply to social housing tenants.

  4. I have to agree with Abi D. that Joe is looking for a story that is not there. This explains the “silence” from Ministers – DWP does not normally swing into action to deny the existence of the black swan. The under-occupancy cut is not replicating LHA for the social sector but simply uses the LHA size criteria as the best basis for judging required household size. This does not mean restrictions around “young people” have to come into the equation.

  5. Bea – as I’ve explained in the latest update to the blog today the charge that I’m looking for a story is nonsense and the detail of that is there.

    In brief after factually stating I simply read the guidance as written and asked whther it applied to social tenants – a logical deduction that not one of the hundreds of comments Ive received disagreed with, I say

    I still maintain my position of earlier today that this is a political hot potato. How can it be seen to be equitable to apply the SAR to just private tenants? It cant be. When in the context that every other social tenant is being subjected to LHA conditions such as the underoccupation tax the lack of equity and political issue of such a position is clear. Add in this government has set out its stall loud and clear on reducing HB spend and even set a target saving of ‘nearly £2bn by 2015’ back in June 2010. Would such a government decide to treat a single person under 35 differently from the next one because he lives in social rather than private rented accommodation? The same government that recognised the pre-existing inequity that private tenants suffered in comparison to social ones by introducing LHA type conditions to social tenants? The same government keen to portray all other underoccupiers as feckless freeloaders defrauding the state and having the ‘privilege’ of ‘heavily subsidised’ social housing?

    Still a non-story you think? Get real!”

    It wouldnt just be ‘good’ for DWP to clarify what we all hope to be the case that it wont apply, it has become absolutely necessary…unless of course Abi Davies is moonlighting as the official PR spokesperson for DWP!

  6. Joe there are many reasons why it does not have to apply. For a start the SAR/SRR exists to discourage young people from moving out into the private rented sector funded by housing benefit. Different incentives and access barriers apply to social housing. It is also, DWP claim, designed to ensure fairness with working peers, so the comparison is not valid in the social sector where a working 27 year old (who had managed to qualify for social housing) could fully expect to pay the rent on a one bed property. Not to mention that even DWP recognises that there is not the same market or scope for shared accommodation in social housing. Also your “logical” interpretation of the size criteria is a little off and can be clarified by looking at the draft regulations from DWP. And that is the last I will say until you offer better proof that this is a story.

  7. Bea – I dont want it to be a story at all I just want proof the DWP guidance as it reads is wrong and its doesnt apply. My final word here, if it is so obviously and easy to confirm my interpretation is wrong, then why hasnt it been denied?

  8. DWP are consulting on the regs for the under-occupancy clause, not the specific question of the SAR! A consultation which was always expected, and is mainly meant to address issues such as what counts as a bedroom. And on the specific question of the SAR they say they do not expect it to apply (which is government speak for it won’t but we have to go through the motions of consultation.) I find it more revealing that everyone who has had discussions with DWP directly about this is not worried.

  9. Bea – I see where you are coming from. What you dont know (assuming Bea is not Rupert Murdoch) is that my inbox has been inundated from right across the sector, and at the highest level. I have decided not to release most of what I have received but before this delves into realms of conspiracy theory, the concern is very genuine and not limited to myself. DWP seemingly want to reserve the right to introduce SAR at some later date is the general view.

    Perhaps here we can get some legal comment on if and whether DWP can do this?

  10. I’ve read and re-read the posts above a couple of times and I’m not clear what the issue being raised is. Within the housing coop sector, which includes local and registered social housing as well as other non-registered and non-social provision, the assumption is that HB claims will not pay the full amount where tenants below 65 under-occupy and there is an outcry about this. The point is made that a single person in a two bedroom property does not have an alternative property to move into unless they move into private accommodation which is then at a much higher cost, notwithstanding that larger landlords may in some areas be able to facilitate such moves.

    As I read the links provided, there is no intention to say that anyone in a single bedroom flat is under-occupying, nor that HB would be capped at the level of the cost of a room in a shared house – however that might be calculated.

    Have I missed something ?

    • Greg

      I think it is the lack of clarity over the single room issue that has given rise to the concern. It certainly does appear that this isn’t intended. But given the ambiguous statement in the DWP assessment, clarity would be good.

  11. Greg

    Ive updated a new post on this today (http://wp.me/p1vuvL-aN)

    In its simplest form SAR and its predecessor SRR are bedroom taxes as the restrict HB funding to a single person 34 and under to the shared rate. These under 35s are underoccupying in other words. My argument is that the SAR changes to PRS tenants could apply to social tenants through the underoccupying ‘bedroom tax’. To date everyone has read these two reforms as separate issues but on the DWP wording in its impact assessment they can be the same issue.

  12. Joe is right to make the connection and until we get clarification form the DWP the social housing community should be rightly concerned and press for a clear answer. This would have far reaching impacts on the viability of social housing schemes. We will be pressing for clarification!

  13. Joe did you see this from DWP on Wednesday?

    Social Sector Size Criteria
    “From April 2013 the applicable maximum rent will be reduced by a national percentage rate depending on how many bedrooms the household is considered not to require. A 14% reduction will be made for those who under occupy their home by a single bedroom and a 25% reduction for two bedrooms or more. The assessment of requirements will be against the same criteria currently used for LHA: a bedroom will be allocated for a single adult or couple; every two children under the age of 10 or each child over 10 if they are different genders.”

    http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/letter-la-chief-execs-england.pdf

    • Bea – just scanned it and “The assessment of requirements will be against THE SAME CRITERIA CURRENTLY USED FOR LHA…” the SAR is a part of LHA too.

      As we know a bedroom for a single adult is not allocated under LHA if you are 34 and under in the PRS and hence if the SAME CRITERIA is used for social tenancies…

      Also the same letter says with regard to the overall benefit caps that “This means that households claiming out of work benefits will no longer receive more in benefits than the average wage paid to those who are working” The OBC is not limited to “out of work” benefits at all and this is a fundamental misrepresentation of the reality of the reforms.

      In short this letter is a vague overview that misrepresents the reality!

  14. Bea

    (a) The SAME CRITERIA currently used for LHA does NOT mean a bedroom will be allocated for a single adult….IF they are 34 or under as the SAR applies. Misrepresentation 1 in this woeful letter

    (b) Earlier it says the overall Benefit cap is limited to £500 / £350pw for OUT OF WORK benefits. The OBC is not limited to out of work benefits at all. Another misrepresentation in this very woeful letter.

  15. Joe we are interpreting the letter in completely different ways. The same criteria as LHA just means the size criteria which does not directly include the SAR. Do you not think DWP would indicate if they were planning to include additional restrictions for under 35s? Can you confirm that you haven’t spoken to DWP directly about this? I am aware that everyone I have spoken to who has done is reassured.

  16. Bea – “The same criteria as LHA just means the size criteria which does not DIRECTLY include the SAR” The use of ‘directly’ is more than semantics and DWP needs to clarify that unambiguously. I will be delighted if it does.

    Is the SAR as now applied to LHA an ‘additional restriction?’ I dont hold with the view that it is; rather it is an integral part of LHA.

    Finally, many of the ‘great and good’ of housing state the DWP has confirmed it to them, though orally. If its such a simple matter of an unintended consequence then it will be simple for DWP to confirm that in writing wont it? Yet until they do, and they havent, the SAR can apply through the backdoor of the bedroom tax to social tenants.

  17. Pingback: SAR Wars? Why we must assume it will apply to social housing « SPeye

    • Is this the right reference ? I can see “composite hereditament which is domestic property within the meaning of section 66 of the Act of 1988” as part of the definition of the elements of the calculation, but not a clear exemption for social tenants.

      In terms of looking at the double-speak, I must admit that we’re focussing on the implications of assurances that tenants made homeless by the effects of the WRA benefits cap (reported in NHF briefing document, March 2012) will not be treated as intentionally homeless, yet surely they will then be evicted for rent arrears and authorities will seek to evade that – if not, why would they pay rent at all and not keep their benefit to try and help them keep their next home ? That’s putting aside the nonsense of evicting them from one property to send them to a more expensive one, if it is available of course.

    • Sorry Greg – was the wrong reference – is in Schedule 3 not Schedule 4 paras 4 and 5

      5) (1)Claimants of the following descriptions do not qualify for one bedroom shared accommodation under paragraph 4
      (2) A claimant whose landlord is a registered housing association.

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