THE BLOG

Bedroom Tax - Finally Killed by Plain Old Common-Sense?

10/02/2014 12:25 GMT | Updated 11/04/2014 10:59 BST

The Bedroom Tax - the most ill-conceived, misbegotten, malicious and counter-productive piece of misguided legislation since - well, since the Poll Tax - may just have been dealt a fatal blow by a Tribunal judge wielding the trusty old sword of common-sense.

In brief, what appears to have happened is that a second-tier Tribunal - a judicial body of sufficient seniority that its decisions are binding upon local authorities and first-tier Tribunals - has taken note of the fact that the word "bedroom" has no specific legal definition. In such a situation, accepted practice is to use the ordinary, everyday definition of the word in question. And this is precisely what the Judge has done in what could well be a landmark decision. The kernel of the matter is found in a quote from a recent judgement which is relying on the recently-announced Upper Tribunal decision 2014 UKUT 48 AAC. The judgement reads, inter alia:

'Bedroom' is not defined by the legislation. This has most recently been pointed out in the Upper Tribunal decision 2014 UKUT 48 AAC. A(t) paragraph 19 of that decision the Tribunal helpfully refer to various definitions of a bedroom."

Paragraph 19 said in simple terms that 'bedroom' is a room used as or furnished as sleeping accommodation.

Paragraph 14 of the judgment then goes on to say:

"The Tribunal finds that neither of the two smallest rooms are bedrooms. They do not contain beds, they are not used for sleeping, they can only be occupied by a child under 10, a half person..."

What this essentially boils down to is that a bedroom is only a bedroom when it is used as a bedroom - not, as appears to have been the intention of the legislation, if it merely could be used as a bedroom. Under this rather too inclusive interpretation of the rules, there was some talk of local authorities defining dining rooms etc as "bedrooms" for the purpose of Bedroom Tax imposition. The new position is that a room needs to be used as or furnished as a bedroom to be a bedroom.

The effect of this outbreak of common-sense is that, potentially, any or all of the original Bedroom Tax decisions taking effect last April are wrong - as councils cannot have known the actual situation and were making decisions based on an assumption that the rooms concerned were bedrooms. What's more, despite the time elapsed since then, these decisions are still appealable - appeals can be accepted up to thirteen months after the date of the original decision. This clearly makes it important to act quickly. Anyone in any doubt about the correctness of their Bedroom Tax decision should write to the local authority decision-maker and seek an appeal in their own individual case. But this must be done soon - it will probably be too late by April.

The implications of this legal development may even go so far as to invalidate all of the decisions. If a room isn't habitually used as a bedroom, it may fall outwith the normal everyday definition of the word - and therefore beyond the scope of the legislation as it stands. Technically, in order to assess whether a particular room qualifies as a "bedroom", the local authority would have to go out and inspect it. In practice, this would be a task on a scale made impossible by limitations on resources. But unless a property has been thus assessed, then no decision can properly be made.

Anyone in any doubt should seek advice, quoting decision reference 2014 UKUT 48 AAC. It is of over-riding importance though to bear in mind the thirteen month absolute time limit for appeals, so swift action is essential.