Bedroom tax guidance panned

‘Bizarre’ government guidelines place onus on landlords not local authorities to define a bedroom

Government guidance issued to local authorities this week on how to classify a bedroom for the purposes of the bedroom tax has been panned as ‘bizarre’ and ‘wrong’ by experts.

The Department for Work and Pensions was forced to rush out a circular to try to end confusion over what constitutes a bedroom in the wake of four successful first-tier tribunal bedroom tax appeals by tenants in Fife, in Scotland, two weeks ago.

The DWP plans to appeal two of the rulings on the grounds that the judge referred to minimum space standards set out in the Housing Act (Scotland) 1987 when making his decisions. The bedroom tax regulations do not define a bedroom.

In its guidance this week, the DWP told local authorities ‘the only consideration [in under-occupancy cases] should be the composition of the household and the number of bedrooms as designated by the landlord’.

Sam Lister, policy and practice officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said the guidance had ‘got to be wrong’.

‘It is the local authority that is the decision maker, and not the landlord [according to established principles]. It can use the information the landlord provides, but it is not bound by it,’ he said.

The circular, issued on Monday, states landlords should consider ‘a number of factors’ including whether the room is big enough for a single bed.

It also said rooms should be classified as bedrooms, ‘notwithstanding that the tenant may argue that it has been habitually used for something else’.

Giles Peaker, partner at Anthony Gold Solicitors, said: ‘The circular is downright bizarre. The DWP shouldn’t determine what a bedroom is, or say that a landlord’s decision is determinative. This guidance does both.’

He said the appeal was a risk for the DWP because it could also open the door for an upper tribunal to set a precedent that judges can determine what bedrooms are, and take size into consideration.

Following the guidance would not protect local authorities from being taken to tribunal over how the landlord classified a bedroom.

The DWP is also considering appealing a further bedroom tax tribunal decision in Westminster.

A spokesperson for the DWP said landlords had always designated bedroom numbers to charge rent, and the guidance did not change anything.