An argument for a mass challenge

The SPeye blog has a great post highlighting the possible impact of widespread challenge of housing benefit changes and advocating for affected residents to challenge, appeal and resist until the cost and bureaucracy of the changes make it impossible for councils to continue to enforce them.

It’s a pretty long post, with lots of details relating to the situation in Liverpool and a template letter you might want to adopt. The overall argument of the impact of widespread challenge is below – anyone interested in trying to work out the same figures for Brent??

Why this will create pandemonium?

1. The scale

  • Liverpool has 5 parliamentary constituencies which form the City Council local authority area which issues Housing Benefit decisions.
  • The National Housing Federation issued a breakdown of bedroom tax affected households by parliamentary constituency.
  • As such we know that Liverpool City Council (LCC) has 12,649 bedroom tax affected households in these 5 constituencies.
  • Therefore LCC would need to consider 12,649 bedroom tax ‘challenges’ if everyone challenged
  • UPDATE (see comments) For the avoidance of doubt Liverpool has 43,460 social tenants claiming HB at latest figures.  The 12,649 is the number of those affected by the bedroom tax.

2. What does each ‘challenge’ involve?

  • The DWP (purported) impact assessment gives an estimate of each ‘appeal’ as a monetary cost of £200 to the council.
  • This gives a cost to LCC of 12,649 x £200 if we accept this extremely low DWP estimate of cost and a cost to LCC of £2,529,800 at face value.
  • Yet just as the tenant has a month to issue an ‘appeal’ or other form of challenge then LCC will need a policy of how long they will take to respond – probably a month as well – to explain, reconsider or refer to appeal at Tribunal.

3. Unpicking the LCC response needed

  • If we assess each hour of LA time at £25 or so  – which is what a few years back the government advised as a cost per hour for councils to use for processing Freedom of Information requests – then the £200 cost of an ‘appeal’ or challenge (the DWP figure) broadly equates to 8 hours of LCC staff time per appeal or challenge
  • The total staff time needed to consider 12,649 challenges becomes 12,649 x 8 hours – a total staffing time of 101,192 hours!!
  • 101,192 hours is one month’s staff time of 160 hours for approximately 632 full-time workers!

So Liverpool City Council would need 632 staff solely dealing with bedroom tax challenges

That assumes they need to do this in one month.  It further assumes that 8 hours of staff time per appeal or challenge is sufficient as per the DWP estimate. If further assumes each appeal or challenge is looked at by only 1 member of staff and doesn’t need 2 for example.

Even if they took a year to respond to each challenge this means 53 full-time staff!!

It further assumes LCC could find 632 or even 53 HB trained staff and LCC would be competing locally with Wirral, Sefton, St Helens, Knowsley, Cheshire West and Chester, and countless other LAs in a commutable area for these ethereal HB trained staff too

Of course every other council would be in the same boat of searching for HB trained staff.  So this is impossible unless IDS can wave a magic wand and produce trained HB decision-making staff out of the ether.

It assumes LCC has budgeted for the cost of 632 HB trained staff and has a spare £2.5m plus recruitment cost or more likely much higher agency costs. Will existing trained HB staff need to be paid more to retain their services? Yes so there’s huge additional costs to the public purse involved here isn’t there reader?

I don’t need to continue at all with this as it is patently obvious that the entire bedroom tax system would come crashing to its knees.”

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