Government loses 'bedroom tax' cases

‘Bedroom tax’: Government loses Court of Appeal cases

  • 27 January 2016
  • From the section UK
Paul Rutherford and his grandson Warren
Image caption Paul Rutherford, who cares for his grandson Warren, claimed the measure was discriminatory

The Court of Appeal has ruled that the so-called bedroom tax discriminates against a domestic violence victim and the family of a disabled teenager.

The ruling followed legal challenges by a woman who has a panic room in her home, and the grandparents of a 15-year-old who requires overnight care.

The spare room subsidy, introduced in 2013, cuts benefits for social housing tenants who have a “spare” bedroom.

The government has said it will appeal against the decision.

What is the ‘bedroom tax’?

One appeal – brought by a woman identified only as “A” – concerned the effect of the policy on women living in properties adapted because of risks to their lives. Her home was equipped with a panic room.

The second appeal – brought by Pembrokeshire couple Paul and Susan Rutherford and their 15-year-old grandson Warren – focused on the impact of the policy on disabled children needing overnight care.

The BBC’s legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman said the ruling would affect only people within these two specific groups – severely disabled children needing overnight care and victims of domestic violence living in specially adapted accommodation.

There are believed to be about 300 victims of domestic violence that this applies to and thousands of severely disabled children in this situation.

“A” and the Rutherfords both claimed that the policy discriminated against them unlawfully.

‘Not justified’

Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, Lord Justice Tomlinson and Lord Justice Vos, sitting in the Court of Appeal, allowed both appeals, on the grounds that the “admitted discrimination” in each case “has not been justified by the Secretary of State”.

The housing benefit changes – dubbed the “bedroom tax” by Labour – were introduced in April 2013. Since then families claiming housing benefits have been assessed for the number of bedrooms they actually need.

Families deemed by their local authorities to have too much living space have received reduced payments.

Mr Rutherford said he was “absolutely delighted” with the ruling, adding: “I couldn’t have had a better start to the day.”

“It was so unfair that somebody had to do something to get the law changed.”

Michael Spencer, from the Child Poverty Action Group, said the ruling meant families “can stay in their homes safe in the knowledge that their disabled children can get the care they need”.

Rebekah Carrier, a solicitor acting for “A”, said: “Our client’s life is at risk and she is terrified. The anxiety caused by the bedroom tax and the uncertainty about this case has been huge.”

‘Extra funding’

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said the government “fundamentally” disagreed with the court’s ruling.

“We have already been granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. We know there will be people who need extra support.

“That is why we are giving local authorities over £870m in extra funding over the next five years to help ensure people in difficult situations like these don’t lose out.”

The government – which rejects the term “bedroom tax” – says the regulations remove what is in fact a spare room subsidy.

It says it aims to encourage people to move to smaller properties, potentially saving about £480m a year from the housing benefit bill.

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