March 8 2014 Latest news:
Sam Blewett, Reporter
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Up to 40,000 people will receive a refund thanks to a Romford “hero” after he discovered that the government have wrongly assessed who is liable for the bedroom tax.
In December, I suggested that council and housing association tenants getting housing benefit for the same home since 1996 are exempt from the bedroom tax. Last week ministers acknowledged that my analysis is correct. Councils are now indentifying tenants eligible for refunds.
The refund is available to people whose housing benefit is reduced by the bedroom tax and who have been on housing benefit for the same home since January 1996 without a break. One break of up to four weeks is ignored and a longer break is ignored if you started work after being long term sick and then became sick again within 52 weeks.
In some cases, the exemption can be passed from one person to another.
Some councils are finding that their records as far back as 1996 are not easy to search and in some cases have been destroyed completely. So if you think you qualify for the exemption contact the council’s benefits department.
If the council does not agree that you qualify, you can appeal as long as the council receives it within 13 months of the original bedroom tax decision last year. For most people this will be around the end of March so there is still time.
A conservative estimate puts the cost to the government at £26million.
Peter Barker, a freelance benefits specialist, of Hillfoot Avenue, discovered the loophole in December but last week the Department for Work and Pensions confirmed his analysis.
By his estimations, up to 90 tenants in Havering could be eligible for an average refund of £770.
It has also been reported that the suicide of the woman from Solihull who, in a note, blamed her death on the financial strains aggravated by the bedroom tax would have been exempt and, if she was still alive, eligible for a refund.
Mr Barker, 53, spotted the oversight made by the DWP in legislation they drafted in 1996. Housing benefit regulations from 1996 were not updated when the coalition created the bedroom tax.
He said: “I just put my findings onto an online discussion forum. I just expected people to find it interesting but instead in went viral.
“There was such a twitter storm over this. Until December I had just one follower and that was my sister-in-law. Now I’ve got people contacting on me on there hailing me as a hero.”
He explained that the area of legislation had become far to overcomplicated and described it as “an accident waiting to happen”.
The bedroom tax sees working age council and housing association tenants with spare bedrooms lose up to 25 per cent of their housing benefits.
It affected 660,000 claimants meaning they either had to move homes, find a way to pay the deficit or downsize to a smaller property.