There has been a lot of excitement about the Westminster FTT bedroom tax appeal by Mr Surinder Lall (eg Guardian, CAB). As I mentioned in my last post on the FTT bedroom tax decisions, it was hard to tell what had happened by looking at the decision itself and the press reports. Some, like the CAB, have taken the view that it was Mr Lall’s use of the second room to hold and use equipment related to his disability (he is blind) that was the basis of the decision. If so, this would be a ‘current use’ decision and highly significant, in view of the DWP’s position that ‘tenant use’ should not be a factor.
I’ve now spoken to the solicitor who assisted Mr Lall and got some more information about the case and the FTT decision.
The housing association landlord (or rather its predecessor) had bought the property in a dilapidated state. It was arranged that Mr Lall would become the tenant but that various alterations, including structural alterations would be carried out to make the property suitable for Mr Lall’s needs. The landlord consented to and participated in these alterations. Part of the purpose of the alterations was to make one room suitable for Mr Lall’s reading and other equipment required due to his being blind.
Thus, from the start of the tenancy, the obtaining of the property by the landlord, and the alterations made, it was clear that the purpose of one of the rooms was for use in relation to that equipment and it was not intended as a room for (potential) use as a bedroom by the landlord.
The designation as a two bed was an error by the landlord’s agent, which had been corrected by the housing association – so not a ‘redesignation’.
In this context, the decision itself makes sense. The room ‘was never intended to be a bedroom’.
So, this decision is, if anything, closer to the first Fife case, in that historic use is the key factor. The question was had the room either been used or been intended to be used as a bedroom. The landlord in this Westminster case had not intended there to be two rooms to be used as bedrooms in the time since it obtained the property and offered Mr Lall a tenancy.
What I think this is not is a decision based on ‘current use’ by the tenant. It is not based on a finding that this is a room originally a bedroom, or intended to be one, which is now used by a disabled tenant to store necessary equipment. It is perhaps a little irresponsible of Citizens Advice to suggest in their press release that it is that kind of case. An appeal based on tenant’s current use has yet to succeed, and, as the Fife cases showed, would not be easy.
My thanks to Coral Williams of Robinson Wilson solicitors, who assisted Mr Lall.