Confusion over the Bedroom Tax

There appears to be some confusion over a possible rethink of the Bedroom Tax. It seems that Iain Duncan Smith has told BBC News home editor one thing, while his department SPADs are claiming another. It shows just how bad things are in government. It seems to be chaos, with policies announced on the fly and ministers and departments contradicting each other.

https://twitter.com/BBCMarkEaston/status/304637207417847808

https://twitter.com/BBCMarkEaston/status/304639950433943552

https://twitter.com/BBCMarkEaston/status/304642876183285760

https://twitter.com/dwppressoffice/status/304664240483090434

 

BBC News: ‘Bedroom tax’ rules re-examined

What is the bedroom tax?

Iain Duncan Smith: “There is no bedroom tax”

Effective campaigning on twitter: how to avoid spamming

Campaigning on twitter can be frustratingly difficult. You want to persuade people to read your article or sign your petition but they want to look at cat pictures and moan about their lives. You have to grab their attention without annoying them so much that they unfollow you or report you for spam. Read on to see my guidelines for campaigning on twitter.

Unfortunately many campaigners are engaging in spamming. It is common for campaigners to spread links to petitions and articles by @ mentioning dozens or even hundreds of people with the same text and link in each tweet. Not only is this very annoying for people who follow that person who may see the tweet many times, it also fits twitter’s definition of spam and is likely to lead to the account being suspended. I myself have unfollowed quite a few people who I otherwise agree with so as to avoid seeing their stream of identical tweets to other people that I follow.

What defines spam? Here are the relevant rules from twitter.

Some of the factors that we take into account when determining what conduct is considered to be spamming are:

  • If you send large numbers of duplicate @replies or mentions;
  • If you send large numbers of unsolicited @replies or mentions in an attempt to spam a service or link;
  • If your updates consist mainly of links, and not personal updates;
  • If you post duplicate content over multiple accounts or multiple duplicate updates on one account;
  • If you post multiple unrelated updates to a topic using #;
  • If you post multiple unrelated updates to a trending or popular topic;

I appreciate that this makes it difficult to campaign, but it is possible without breaking the rules and annoying people. Here are my tips.

  • Post your links on your own timeline where people can choose to follow you or not.
  • Time your main tweets for the peak times that your followers are on twitter.
  • Make tweets interesting so that people will retweet them.
  • Put an attention grabbing summary in the tweet.
  • Remember: Links on their own are useless.
  • State what you actually want people to do, eg sign a petition, pass on the story, write to an MP.
  • Post variations of your tweet every few minutes or hours to get attention from people on twitter at different times.
  • Seed links to articles and petitions with just a few mentions to key people that you know are likely to retweet them. Do not do this more than a few times.
  • Tweet your link directly to people who you know are interested or who are waiting for it.
  • If you must mention someone use a new mention not a reply. Do not reply to unrelated tweets with your campaign and do not reply to all other disinterested parties in unrelated tweets.

If you have other guidelines please share them in the comments.

When is Tesco not Tesco? When you’ve got a broken phone.

Samsung Galaxy S3 with a cracked screen

Nine weeks ago I bought a Samsung Galaxy S3 with an O2 contract from the Tesco Phone Shop in the Evesham branch of Tesco.
A few days ago I suddenly noticed a crack running along the right edge of the screen, from about a third of the way down to a third of the way from the bottom. It’s barely noticable viewed from the front, but when viewed from the side, like when I lay it on my bed with my head on the pillow, it’s right in the way and distorts the text. I checked online and found that quite a few people have reported cracks in the screen of this model without any drops or impact, which means that this is almost certainly a manufacturing defect.

Today I went back to the Tesco Phone Shop and asked for a replacement. I was told that since I bought the phone longer than 28 days ago, they would not replace it but they could arrange for it to be sent away for repair. I insisted that this was not acceptable since it was within six months and it was the retailer’s responsibility, and I asked to talk to a manager. Unfortunately that manager was completely unable to do anything despite wanting to help because the Tesco Phone Shop is not actually part of Tesco – it’s run by 2020 Mobile.

Tesco paperwork showing an email address at 2020 mobile
Buying from Tesco? Look again.

I believe the law says that a defect arising within six months is assumed to be a manufacturing defect and is the responsibility of the retailer to fix. I do not want to send my phone away for repair since (a) I don’t want a repaired screen, I want a pristine product that looks like it is nine weeks old and (b) I would have to be without the phone for days, probably weeks. The S3 takes a Micro SIM which will not fit in any spare handset I have access to, including any that the Tesco phone shop offered to lend me.

I didn’t particularly want to bring up disability, but I also explained that my phone is often the only way I can communicate when I am at my sickest and can barely move in bed. The Tesco manager offered to lend me a phone (Not a smartphone) and a SIM which would at least let me call and text but I would still be unable to access the minutes, texts and data that I pay for.

Samsung Galaxy S3 with a cracked screen - switched on

So now I have a phone with a broken screen which the retailer refuses to exchange, and I didn’t buy it from the retailer that I thought I bought it from but from another who tell me that their computers won’t let them exchange it.

Update: I’ve received the following message from Tesco, which I will follow up when I have the energy for a phone call.

https://twitter.com/tescomobilecare/status/303577352779206656

Iain Duncan Smith: There is no bedroom tax

“There’s no such thing as the bedroom tax. It’s nonsense. There is no bedroom tax.”

– Iain Duncan Smith.

I believe that the Under Occupancy Penalty is a tax. It will deduct 14% or 25% of a household’s rent from their housing benefit if they have a spare bedroom and live in social housing.

Tax is defined as:

“A compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government on workers’ income and business profits or added to the cost of some goods, services, and transactions”

The bedroom tax for many people is impossible to avoid since there are few available one bedroom homes. Money that is deducted from housing benefit as a penalty for having a spare bedroom will contribute to government. Housing benefit is income. (Albeit income that is all passed on to the landlord to pay rent.) I believe that the under occupation penalty fits the definition of a tax.

In any case, it does not matter what the government choose to call something. The community charge will forever be the poll tax. Enforced unpaid work for benefits is always referred to as workfare despite the best efforts of the DWP. In two hundred years the under occupancy penalty will still be known as the bedroom tax and will be seen in history alongside the window tax.

What is the bedroom tax?

Iain Duncan Smith slips up: “She was paid jobseeker’s allowance to do this”

IDS the puppermaster
Illustration by @dochackenbush

Iain Duncan Smith was interviewed on the Andrew Marr show today. He made some telling statements.

“I understand she said she wasn’t paid. She was paid jobseeker’s allowance, by the taxpayer, to do this.”

Funny, the government have always said that this wasn’t a work-for-your-benefits scheme but IDS seems to think it is.  In fact, the official response by the DWP to a petition to abolish Workfare said:

“We do not have Work for Your Benefit or Workfare schemes in this country.”

Furthermore, in a response to a Freedom of Information request the DWP said:

“Benefit is not paid to the claimant as remuneration for the activity. “

They continue:

“Instead, performing it is one of a number of conditions which may have to be fulfilled by the claimant in order to be paid Jobseeker’s Allowance.  The relationship between the claimant, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and any third parties involved in providing the activity is not one of employment.”

In my opinion that is a serious mistake by IDS. If, as IDS says, benefits are being paid as wages for work experience schemes, then it I suspect that it breaches minimum wage laws. If they are not, as officially claimed by his department, then we have forced unpaid labour. I thought that people paid National Insurance in the expectation that when people needed help they would be supported. Having to work for it is a breach of contract.

“I’m sorry, but there is a group of people out there who think they’re too good for this kind of stuff.”

People don’t think they’re too good for shelf stacking, they think they’re too good for shelf stacking without receiving a fair wage for it. Is “A fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work” really a controversial statement in the 21st century?

“Who is more important – them, the geologist, or the person who stacked the shelves?”

Every person is important, including shelf stackers. Geologists are pretty important especially in the oil industry.

“Let me remind you that [former Tesco chief executive] Terry Leahy started his life stacking shelves.”

He was paid for it!

BBC News: Duncan Smith: Shelf-stacking is more important than geology

My thanks to @A11_Seeing_Eye and @Spoonydoc for help with this article.

UPDATE

Iain Duncan Smith was interviewed by James O’Brien on LBC who put the question of remuneration to him. Listen:

DWP work schemes found illegal

The Court of Appeal has ruled today that the Department of Work and Pensions back-to-work schemes are illegal because the regulations that Iain Duncan Smith created to allow the schemes overstepped the law. (An act of Parliament allows for regulations to be created to specify the detail of the law, these regulations went further than Parliament had allowed for.) The court did not find that the schemes violated article 4 of the Human Rights Act, nor did it find that the concept of making people undertake work experience to increase employment prospects would be a problem were it in an act of parliament. Since these work schemes have been proven to actually reduce employment prospects, however, it is possible that the schemes may yet be found to violate human rights.

Public Interest Lawyers explain the judgement:

“The Court found that the Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith, has acted beyond the powers given to him by Parliament by failing to provide, any detail about the various “Back to Work” schemes in the Regulations. The Government had bypassed Parliament by introducing the Back to Work schemes administratively under an “umbrella” scheme knwons as the Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme, claiming the need for “flexibility’. The Court of Appeal held that this was contrary to what Parliament had required.”

Paragraph 63 of the judgment criticises the information given to the benefit claimants. I have covered this in previous blog posts (Mandatory unpaid work – the evidence) where I explained that letters sent out state clearly that the work experience is not optional and will result in sanctions while DWP ministers have simultaneously appeared on TV to claim that the work is voluntary and that they have not forced anyone.

Public Interest Lawyers also tell us that:

“The effect of the judgment is that all those people who have been sanctioned by having their jobseeker’s allowance withdrawn for non-compliance with the Back to Work Schemes affected will be entitled to reclaim their benefits. And until new regulations are enacted with proper Parliamentary approval nobody can be compelled to participate on the schemes.”

The two people who brought this case were made to take part in Sector based work Academies and in the Community Action Programme. I do no know whether this judgement affects Work Experience arranged either by the Job Centre or as part of The Work Programme however it does not affect Mandatory Work Activity, which remains legal. It should be noted that some people who refused to co-operate with “voluntary” work experience were referred to Mandatory Work Activity as a result which allowed for sanctions, but this was not covered either.

In a written statement today Minster for Employment Mark Hoban MP said:

“Whilst the judgment supports the principle and policy of our employment schemes, and acknowledges the care and resources we have dedicated to implementing them, the Court of Appeal has ruled that the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise) Regulations 2011 (“the ESE Regulations”) do not describe the employment schemes to which they apply, as is required by the primary legislation. The Court of Appeal has therefore held the ESE Regulations to be ultra vires and quashed them.”

The government has been refused leave to appeal by the Court of Appeal but despite this they have announced that they will appeal to the supreme court to have the judgement overturned. Job Seekers who have been sanctioned by the DWP will not be able to appeal to the DWP for the repayment of their benefits until this has finished. Worryingly the minister also stated that the DWP are “considering a range of options to ensure we do not have to repay these sanctions.” This suggests to me that there will be a hastily enacted act of Parliament to move the scheme from regulations into law, but even then I cannot see how it could be retroactive.

Further Reading

The lawyers: Court of Appeal Rules that the Government’s “Back to Work” Regulations are Unlawful and Must Be Quashed

The Judges: Full judgement of the Court Of Appeal [PDF]

The DWP: Written Ministerial Statement: Judgment in Wilson/Reilly case [PDF]

The regulations: The Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011

The Guardian: Graduate’s Poundland victory leaves government work schemes in tatters

Unwanted movement

I haven’t written anything here about illness for a while because politics has been a bit overwhelming but today I have been thinking about unwanted movement. Not necessarily involuntary movement, but also movement that can happen without thinking about it. I move around quite a lot, and I find it very exhausting on top of my other illness. (I have ME/CFS, diabetes, migraines, depression and anxiety and a few other things.)

Here’s a list of the movements I tend to do.

  • Jiggle my legs
  • Jerk my legs forward
  • Rock my torso and sholders
  • Jerk my torso forward (bending at the waist)
  • Move my head side to side
  • Jerk my head side to side
  • Fiddle with objects – generally click, rotate, fold or twist things

In addition to the above I also have a few other intermittent problems which might be a result of whatever causes my movement.

  • Repeatedly clear my throat
  • Make small humming or grunting noises
  • Pick at my fingers and cuticles
  • Pick scabs
  • Tear at my lips

Restless Legs Syndrome

There are a few things that these could be attributed to. My official diagnosis for the leg movement is Restless Legs Syndrome and I have been taking pramipexole for a few years to try to control it. I don’t actually know if it has been successful at that, but every time I try to reduce the dose I get fairly extreme restless legs – worse than I had before the drug – as a withdrawal symptom.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder characterized by an irresistible urge to move one’s body to stop uncomfortable or odd sensations. It most commonly affects the legs, but can affect the arms, torso, and even phantom limbs. Moving the affected body part modulates the sensations, providing temporary relief.RLS sensations could be pain, an aching, an itching or tickling in the muscles, like “an itch you can’t scratch” or an unpleasant “tickle that won’t stop”, or even a “crawling” feeling. The sensations typically begin or intensify during quiet wakefulness, such as when relaxing, reading, studying, or trying to sleep. In addition, most individuals with RLS have limb jerking during sleep, which is an objective physiologic marker of the disorder and is associated with sleep disruption. [Taken from Wikipedia]

I’m not convinced that what I have is actually RLS. I don’t get an itch, tickle or crawling feeling, but I do get an urge to move my legs which I can resist for a while but eventually have to give in to. It happens to me at any point in the day when I keep still for a while but especially when I am in bed. I’ve always had a problem with this, even when I was at school I found it very uncomfortable to keep still. (Although that was also related to pain when sitting cross-legged on the floor, something that I would now refuse to do but could not at school.)

Tics

My throat clearing and noises are probably tics, although I have never brought this up with a doctor and have no diagnosis for them. Tics are described by NHS Choices as follows:

Tics are rapid, repetitive, involuntary contractions of a group of muscles. They can occur in the form of either:

  • motor tics (bodily movements)
  • phonic or vocal tics (sounds)

Most tics are mild and infrequent and they may not even be noticeable to the person experiencing them or to others. However, some tics can be frequent and severe. Tics can also be a symptom of Tourette’s syndrome (see below).
Types of tics

Motor tics can affect any part of the body, but they often involve the muscles of the face, eyes, head and neck. These produce movements such as:

  • facial twitching
  • grimacing
  • blinking
  • shrugging of the shoulders

Common phonic tics include:

  • coughing
  • grunting
  • clearing the throat
  • sniffing

Some people with tics may be able to suppress (control) a tic for a short period of time, although this is said to be like trying to hold back a sneeze. They feel increasing tension until the tic is finally released. [Taken from NHS Choices]

To be honest, the description of increasing tension until the tic is released sounds like my restless legs too. An increase of tics in response to stress is mentioned too and I can identify with that. I have noticed that the sudden quite forceful jerking of my legs which often results in ramming my knees into the underside of my desk often increases when I am stressed about something.

Stimming

There is another possibility for some of this. Stimming. Stimming is described thusly:

Stimming is a repetitive body movement that self-stimulates one or more senses in a regulated manner. Stimming is known in psychiatry as a “stereotypy”, a continuous, purposeless movement. [Taken from Autism Wiki]

I think stimming could be the cause because I am currently on a waiting list to see a specialist about possible Aspergers syndrome / Autistic Spectrum Disorder. If I am affected by this then it is very mild and I have mostly learnt how to work around the social anxiety problems involved however stimming remains a possibility.

The key for stimming is that it is voluntary. I think that rocking my torso may fall into this category, and maybe the picking at my skin and scabs. I actually don’t rock as much as I feel the urge to because I feel so stupid doing so, and embarrassed that my wife or anyone else might see it.

Dermatillomania

My picking at loose bits of skin, cuticles, lips, wounds and scabs is probably dermatillomania, which is a mental health problem that may be related to OCD.

Dermatillomania is defined as “repetitive and compulsive picking of skin which results in tissue damage. [Taken from Wikipedia]

I’m not sure there’s anything more I can say about it other than this quote. This problem has at times left me with horrible bleeding wounds all over my fingers and lips. I haven’t found it so bad at the moment which may be because of the anti-depressants that I take although I have been picking scabs on my back, head and shoulder which as a result are not healing up.

Ultimately I do not know why I do any of these movements. I do know that they intrude on my life, prevent me from sleeping and resting, make travelling in cars and buses hell and make sitting still painful. I have to choose where I sit based on being able to get out to stretch. I had to choose a car which had lots of leg room and cruise control because otherwise I would end up in pain from not moving or crashing the car from jerking my foot on the accelerator. I find these movements highly embarrassing when out in public and I wish they would go away.

What Is The Bedroom Tax?

The bedroom tax is money taken off the housing benefit that is paid to households who officially have more bedrooms than they need. The bedroom tax only affects people who get housing benefit and live in social housing – council housing or housing association housing. It does not affect those renting privately. It will not affect pensioners this April, however it will affect pensioners who’s partner is below pension age when Universal Credit starts in October. The bedroom tax does affect people who work but still receive housing benefit.

The following explanation is taken from the DWP website.

The Welfare Reform Act introduces new rules for the size of accommodation that Housing Benefit, and then Universal Credit, will cover for working age tenants renting in the social sector. This will bring them in line with the private rented sector.

From April 2013 all current and future working age tenants renting from a local authority, housing association or other registered social landlord will receive housing support based on the need of their household.

The size criteria allows one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household with the following exceptions:

  • children under 16 of the same gender are expected to share
  • children under 10 are expected to share regardless of gender
  • a disabled tenant or partner who needs a non-resident overnight carer will be allowed an extra room.

This means those tenants whose accommodation is larger than they need may lose part of their Housing Benefit:

  • those with one spare bedroom will lose 14 per cent of their Housing Benefit
  • those with two or more spare bedrooms will lose 25 per cent.

Note that the DWP’s statement here is wrong; the deduction is not 14% or 25% of housing benefit, but 14% or 25% of your rent.

Who should get an exception but won’t?

  • Couples who cannot share a room because of disability. (Or, indeed, many other reasons.)
  • Disabled people who keep bulky equipment in a spare room.
  • People who have had their house modified at great cost to cope with their disability.
  • Parents who have separated and keep a spare room for visits by their children.
  • Foster parents.
  • Many more.

What can you do about it?

Not much. The government expect you to either move to a house with fewer bedrooms, take in a lodger to rent your spare room, or pay the shortfall out of your other income or benefits. You may have a loophole if your spare bedroom is too small to legally be counted as a bedroom, however I expect that you will have a difficult fight to have this accepted.

What about private rentals?

Those renting privately will not be affected by the Bedroom Tax, but only, and this is important, because private rents are already subject to the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) which sets the maximum housing benefit that will be paid as a percentage of the average rents in the area. Tenants in private housing will already only receive housing benefit up to the LHA for the number of rooms that they are judged to need using exactly the same criteria as for those in social housing. If they can find a home with more rooms for less rent than the LHA then they are free to do so, however this is rare and unlikely. In practice private tenants with spare rooms will probably receive less housing benefit than their rent. They won’t be specifically subject to the under occupancy penalty like those in social housing, but they will probably not have enough money to cover the rent either.

Further reading

An explanation of the Bedroom Tax by Hilary Burkitt – Twitlonger

The ‘bedroom tax’ undermines disabled people’s human rights – We Are Spartacus

Housing benefit changes from 2013 – Shelter

Anti Bedroom Tax – Facebook Support Group

Bedroom-tax will hammer single/grand/foster parents, carers forces, bereaved – skwalker1964