Could the bedroom tax saga get more bizarre? Try this: The Government has issued a circular asking (or demanding, in somewhat hysterical terms) that local authorities “urgently” set aside any other priorities and send details of bedroom tax tribunal decisions to Iain Duncan Smith’s Department of Work and Pensions.
The strong implication is that Duncan Smith now has at his disposal a crack team of top government lawyers ready to swoop whenever judges come up with the wrong decisions on these cases – ie those allowing people to stay in their homes without benefit cuts for “spare bedrooms”.
The document, HB U7/2013, says:
“The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) may opt to join an appeal or in some cases will take appeals forward where LAs [Local Authorities] have chosen not to do this … LAs are therefore asked to notify DWP of all FtT [First-tier Tribunal] decisions relating to this subject regardless of whether the decision is overturned or whether you intend to appeal adverse decisions.”
This highlights a rather tricky legal issue for Duncan Smith – that nobody has any interest in the success of his mad policy except him. As the circular (order? demand?) notes, if the First-tier Tribunal hearing a bedroom tax case finds for the tenant “generally local authorities initiate appeals to the Upper Tribunal in HB cases”.
And generally local authorities wouldn’t bother because they couldn’t care less. This is because they get no benefit whatsoever from the “removal of the spare room subsidy”, only hassle – and cost. The money saved by cutting the benefit does not go into their coffers. It is simply deducted from the housing benefit grant the government sends them.
Worse, of course, because if tenants can’t afford the bedroom tax, councils then have to apply resources to sorting the problem out. This might ultimately mean legal action for eviction as a result of arrears and, particularly absurdly, dealing with at least some of those they have just evicted under their obligations to the statutorily homeless (as explained here: Bedroom tax and unintentional homelessness).
So, with a First-tier ruling under its belt that says it must continue to pay housing benefit in a particular case, there is no reason why a local authority would pursue the matter in the Upper Tribunal. One might indeed consider it a culpable waste of council tax payers’ money to do so.
But culpable waste of public money is no object as far as IDS is concerned. He needs his policy to be a success which means it must be as draconian as possible. Which means judge’s decisions must be challenged. Which in turn means he is willing to double up on lawyers taking appeals by sending his team in as “interveners” (usually interveners are those lefty expert busybodies who join themselves in cases “in the public interest” as per Chris Grayling, but here they are, of course, a “good thing”).
And it means that even if local authorities consider nothing will be served by pursuing cases, IDS will not be baulked thus. He will take the appeals himself generating big legal bills for the public to pay in lawyers’ and judges’ time and vindictively spreading misery among some of the poorest people in the country.
Nice one Dunc!