Messages circulating via social media claim that Muslims can be exempted from the new bedroom tax imposed on UK welfare recipients by setting aside the spare bedroom as a prayer room.
The claims are false. Even if tenants choose to designate a room in their house as a place of worship, they cannot use this reason to avoid paying bedroom tax or any other taxes. Versions of this bogus message began circulating long before the bedroom tax was introduced.
On April 1st 2013, the controversial and unpopular “bedroom tax” was imposed on UK welfare recipients as part of wider welfare reform. The tax cuts the amount of benefit that people can receive if they have a spare bedroom in their council or housing association home.
The new rules have caused a great deal of anger and resentment in the UK and, in the months leading up to the start date of the tax, have generated ongoing rumours and misunderstandings.
One such rumour suggests that Muslim tenants can avoid the new tax by claiming that their spare bedroom is a prayer room. However, this rumour is unfounded. Muslims, or people of any other faith, cannot claim exemption from the tax by designating a room as a place of worship.
There are exceptions that allow some residents to avoid the tax, but a dedicated prayer room is not one of them. A prayer room exemption is not listed on the National Housing Federation website or on any other official website dealing with the tax.
Nor is it included in any credible news reports about the bedroom tax. Given the great deal of interest that the UK’s news media has displayed towards the bedroom tax, it is highly improbable that a prayer room based exemption would not have been very widely discussed in publications across the country. The absence of such reports is a clear indication that no such exemption actually exists.
Moreover, rumours that Muslim families could avoid paying council taxes by setting aside a room as a prayer area have circulated for years prior to the implementation of the bedroom tax and have been repeatedly dismissed as hoaxes.
A July 2009 This Is Money article, noted:
While it is true that some families have rooms set aside for prayer in their homes, this does not mean they can dodge paying council tax.
I spoke to the Department of Communities and Local Government who told me council tax exemption applies to ‘places of public religious worship’ – what you might loosely call a church.
I was told that to qualify for special council tax treatment, the building used would have to be certified and there would normally be signs advertising the public nature of the worship going on there.
And, in 2011, Pendle Council spokesperson Philip Mousdale denied the rumours in a Burnley Express letter to the editor, noting:
I WOULD like to respond to the letter from Christer Nicholson. He asked for help in debunking a rumour about Muslim households avoiding council tax by having a prayer room and calling their home a place of worship.
Sadly, this is something which surfaces from time to time and one must perhaps question the motives of those who spread it. I can assure readers and Christer that it has no substance. According to our records, there are no houses or business premises claiming a reduction or exemption due to having a room(s) designated as a place of worship.
Thus, it seems clear that the bedroom tax prayer room rumours are just revamped variants of older and equally false stories.
Some variants of the message tack on the claim that rooms under 70 sq ft are not counted as bedrooms and are therefore exempt. This claim is also untrue. And, surely, it hardly needs to be said that removing the door of a bedroom will not exempt the room from bedroom tax as suggested in some tongue-in-cheek forum comments.