Court rules against bedroom tax

by Daphne Liddle

THE COURT of Appeal has ruled that the hated Tory bedroom tax discriminates against a victim of domestic violence and the family of a disabled teenager in a ruling that could have implications for many more victims. The bedroom tax is a cut in housing benefit for tenants who are deemed to have more rooms in their home than they need. Because housing benefit is strictly means tested claimants by definition cannot afford to pay more rent than they already are. Their benefit is cut by 14 per cent for the first room that is deemed extra to their needs or 25 per cent for two or more rooms deemed extra to their needs.

Affected claimants are supposed to seek smaller accommodation. In most cases this is unrealistic because such accommodation is not often freely available. Even when it is, it often means moving from social housing to privately rented accommodation at a much higher rent so the state has to give them much more housing benefit.

The people who have been hit hardest are the disabled and long-term sick who often need a bedroom to themselves, or room to accommodate an overnight carer or special needs equipment.

The Government has given local councils a budget and discretion to compensate some victims with special needs. But that budget is tiny and very few claimants are helped from it.

Many disabled people have been forced to move from homes that were specially adapted to accommodate their needs into smaller homes where they must now struggle to get about or to live comfortably.

Last week’s 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.

Ministers have said they will appeal against the ruling. The case is now due to be decided in the Supreme Court.

One of the cases — brought by a woman identified 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 — a secure room that she could retreat into if threatened with violence by her former partner and from which she could call the emergency services.

The second case was brought by Paul and Susan Rutherford, who live in Pembrokeshire, and their 15-yearold grandson Warren. The case focused on the impact of the policy on disabled children needing overnight care. Their case came after the High Court dismissed their claim for a judicial review.

Legal experts say the ruling will affect only people with severely disabled children or victims of domestic violence living in specially adapted accommodation.

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

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

Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, Lord Justice Tomlinson and Lord Justice Vos ruled in their favour, saying that the “admitted discrimination” in each case “has not been justified by the Secretary of State”.

Paul 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, the 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.”

Labour Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Owen Smith said the ruling provided “a glimmer of hope for the hundreds of thousands of people who have been hit by this cruel policy”. “Surely the time has now come for the Tories to discover a conscience, listen to the courts as well as the public, and scrap the hated bedroom tax.”