In yet another astonishing outburst from the DWP, tin-pot dictator Iain Duncan Smith is treating the laws of the land with utter contempt and demanding that local authorities ignore a recent Bedroom Tax court decision.
Earlier in the month a first-tier benefit tribunal judgement ruled that a room of less than 70 square feet should not be considered a bedroom for the purpose of the Bedroom Tax. This important judgement against Fife Council led the local authority to call the bedroom tax ‘unworkable’ and demand it should be scrapped.
This ruling was immediately seized upon by campaigners who rightly demanded that their own local councils introduce Bedroom Tax policies in line with the ruling.
Yet not for the first time, the DWP have decided they are above the law and have this week sent out an ‘Urgent Bulletin’ to Housing Benefit staff (PDF) across the UK ordering them to ignore the court ruling. According to the DWP, the only definition of whether a room is a bedroom is the one set out by the landlord of the property, and consideration must be given as to whether the room is large enough to contain a single bed.
Whilst the ruling in Fife did not set a legal precedent, according to The Scotsman lawyers have said it will “have repercussions for other cases across the UK, making it more likely that other appeals would find in claimants’ favour.”
The DWP claim they are seeking permission to appeal the decision, although as the SPeye blog makes clear, they don’t even seem to know even the most basic facts of the case.
This is unlikely to trouble Ministers at the DWP however where ignorance is bliss and the law of the land is a minor inconvenience to be dodged, bent or re-written at will.
So it is likely that another Bedroom Tax court ruling, as reported by The Guardian yesterday, will also be shrugged off. Surinder Lall, who is blind brought a case against Westminster Council and was able to convince the court that a room used to store equipment needed to help him manage his disability was not, and had never been, a bedroom.
Westminster Council had argued that this man’s landlord had classified the room as a bedroom and this led to the decision to cut his housing benefits. This is the same argument used by the DWP in their panicky diktat to Housing Benefit staff earlier in the week. It is also an argument that appears to have been completely ignored by the judge in the case who said in a terse one page judgement (PDF): “The term ‘bedroom’ is nowhere defined. I apply the ordinary English meaning. The room in question cannot be so described. The appeal succeeds.”
The DWP have said they are considering appealing this ruling as well. In the meantime however the judge has ordered that Westminster Council should revise Mr Lall’s entitlement to Housing Benefit in line with the Tribunal’s decision.
Whilst Iain Duncan Smith is likely to continue playing fast and loose with the courts to dodge the consequences of his bungled reforms, claimants everywhere who face the Bedroom Tax should still consider whether they are able to appeal. At the very least it will slow the bastards down.
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