Wednesday, 31 July 2013

High Court 'devastating' ruling on bedroom tax

THE High Court in London has dismissed a legal challenge to the Government’s 'bedroom tax' after judges ruled that the policy did not disproportionately discriminate against disabled people.  However, the High Court said ministers must now make regulations 'very speedily' to ensure there is 'no deduction of housing benefit where an extra bedroom is required for children who are unable to share because of their disabilities'.

Shelter chief executive Campbell Robb said the ruling would be ‘devastating’ for disabled adults and families with disabled of vulnerable children.  He said:
'As a result of today’s ruling we’re really concerned that these families will now face a real struggle to meet their rent and may end up losing their home.'

The judicial review of the 'spare room subsidy' was brought by 10 families with disabled or vulnerable children, who argued the under-occupation penalty discriminates against claimants who are disabled or have disabled family members.

Since 1 April 2013, persons deemed to have one spare bedroom have had their housing benefit reduced by 14 per cent and persons deemed to have two, or more, spare bedrooms have had their housing benefit reduced by 25 per cent. 

The claimants all argued that these new housing benefit rules discriminated against people with disabilities. But the court ruled that discrimination against adults with disabilities, even those in the same situation to children with disabilities who could not share a room, was justified. Lawyers for adults with disabilities confirmed that they intend to appeal the ruling, arguing that the discriminatory impact of the measure on people with disabilities cannot be justified and is unlawful. Disabled children and their families also intend to appeal as ministers have declined to confirm that the new regulations, which the court said must be made, will cover their situations, or to provide a date by which the new regulations will be made.

Housing industry leaders expressed their disappointment at the judgment.

National Housing Federation chief executive, David Orr said:
'We are deeply disappointed with the outcome of today’s High Court judgement. The fact that disabled people are being forced to take the Government to the High Court to challenge the bedroom tax shows how desperate their situation is.'

Housing associations warned from day one that this policy was unworkable.  Disabled people across the country are being forced to cut back on food and heating to pay the bedroom tax, despite the fact that many have had their homes adapted at great cost due to their disabilities: 
'The Government said Discretionary Housing Payments would protect these people, but this is only a temporary measure which is unlikely to provide long-term security for people, and the money available is not enough to go around. “This judgement does not change the fact that the bedroom tax is a flawed and unfair policy that won’t achieve what the Government hopes it will. The only fair solution is to scrap this policy now.'

Grainia Long, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, added:
'This judgement will come as a huge blow for thousands of disabled families who are being unfairly affected by the bedroom tax. “The legal challenges have highlighted the problems caused by having a "one size fits all" system that doesn’t take people’s individual circumstances into account.  Increasing discretionary housing support by £35 million, as the Department for Work and Pensions has announced, is simply not the right way to mitigate the impact this policy is having.'

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said:
'We are pleased to learn that the court has found in our favour and agreed that we have fulfilled our equality duties to disabled people.  Reform of housing benefit in the social sector is essential, so the taxpayer does not pay for people’s extra bedrooms.'

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