21 February 2014
People with disabilities challenging the ‘Bedroom Tax’ have said that they will continue to fight after the Court of Appeal upheld last year’s High Court ruling that the Government’s controversial new housing benefit regulations were lawful.
The Court of Appeal Judges
found that the new housing benefit regulations discriminate against people with disabilities, who have a need for accommodation larger than the rules allow because of their disability.
However, the court was satisfied that the Secretary of State for Work and Pension had justified the discriminatory effect of the policy.
In particular, the Court was satisfied that the needs of disabled people subject to the bedroom tax were being met by means of Discretionary Housing Payments and that for the Appellants and other disabled persons in a similar situation their needs for assistance with payment of their rent were in fact better dealt with by Discretionary Housing Payments rather than Housing Benefit.
Anne McMurdie from law firm Public Law Solicitors, who are representing three clients in the legal challenge said: “In figures provided during the course of the hearing the Government made clear that the fund for discretionary payments will be reduced by £15 million next year.”
Since 1 April 2013, people in the social rented sector deemed to have 1 spare bedroom have had their housing benefit reduced by 14% and people deemed to have 2, or more, spare bedrooms have had their housing benefit reduced by 25%.
This is the case even when their disability means they cannot move to smaller accommodation or they need the extra space. In July 2013, 10 claimants represented by 3 law firms, all argued that these new Housing Benefit rules discriminate against people with disabilities.
The High Court accepted that the Rules are discriminatory and decided that for disabled adults the discrimination was justified and therefore lawful.
The same did not apply to a disabled child unable to share a bedroom with another child because of their disabilities. Following the court’s ruling the Government has introduced new regulations exempting households from the housing benefit reduction where children are unable to share a room because of their disability.
The High Court held that discrimination against adults with disabilities, even those in the equivalent situation to children with disabilities who could not share a room, was justified.
Adults with disabilities took their case to the Court of Appeal arguing that they should be entitled to full Housing Benefit for the accommodation they actually need as a result of their disabilities and that the discriminatory impact of the measure on people with disabilities cannot be justified and is unlawful.
Jayson and Jacqueline Carmichael from Southport, who were part of the legal action and represented by Leigh Day, sought an appeal on the grounds that their position was indistinguishable from that of the disabled children who were now exempted.
However, the Court of Appeal refused this argument on the basis that the differential treatment of adults and children was reasonable and justified.
Charities, Social Landlords, Local Authorities and Advice Agencies as well as the United Nations Special Rapporteur have spoken out about the plight of people with disabilities who have been affected by the measure. Two law firms, Leigh Day and Public Law Solicitors, are representing those adults with disabilities challenging the legislation.
Ugo Hayter from the law firm Leigh Day who is representing two people with disabilities who argue that their second bedroom is essential, said:
“We are extremely disappointed by this Judgment and we are baffled by the findings of the Court of Appeal.
“The Court recognised that our clients and thousands of disabled people across the UK had a need for accommodation not provided for by the new housing benefit rules, however the Court decided that disabled tenants should not have their housing needs met on an equivalent basis to their able bodied counterparts, just because they are disabled.
“Instead disabled tenants are being forced to rely on short term and discretionary payments.
“We are currently considering whether an appeal to the Supreme Court is possible. Our thoughts go out to the thousands of disabled tenants who continue to be faced with uncertainty, poverty and the risk of eviction.”
Anne McMurdie of Public Law Solicitors whose firm acts for three of the Appellants said:
“The Government has sought to make savings by targeting the most vulnerable in our society. On the Government’s own figures at least 440,000 disabled households will lose out under the new regulations.
“There is compelling and growing evidence of the terrible adverse impact on disabled tenants, having to make the dreadful choice between paying the rent and buying food or heating their homes.
“Disabled tenants are not asking for extra funds - they are asking for housing benefit to be paid at a level which meets their needs – for the same right as others. Discretionary payments are not the answer."
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