Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Disabled people and the bedroom tax: update

There has been a blow today in the High Court for many disabled people who live in rented accommodation. Ten families had brought a judicial review against the new rules, and the Court made its ruling today. The ruling is mostly (but not quite entirely) bad news.

Two of the lawyers acting for some of these people have also published information about the case:

http://www.leighday.co.uk/News
http://www.hmbsolicitors.co.uk/news/category/item/index.cfm?asset_id=1528

The Background

Fro April this year there has been a new restriction on Housing Benefit for people who live in accommodation rented from Social Sector landlords (i.e. Housing Associations, local councils, and the like). The law now decides how many bedrooms a household needs, and limits the Housing Benefit accordingly. 

(For a more detailed explanation, see my website http://www.benefitsowl.info/bedroom tax.html )

Clearly this doesn't just affect disabled people and their families: however the impact does appear to be particularly severe for households where someone is disabled. frequently the nature of the disability requires that a person needs a separate room, from their partner if an adult or their siblings if a child. In addition, families - and assisting agencies - go to some lengths to adapt a property to suit the particular needs, and face losing all that if they have to leave.

For a really good summary of these issues, I recommend http://www.disabilitynow.org.uk/article/bedroom-tax-and-home-discomforts

The Bad News

In order to win the case the applicants had to show that the new rules discriminated against them and that the discrimination could not be justified. The second part might seem odd, but it reflects a general legal principal about discrimination: a women's refuge who advertise for a female worker is discriminating against men, but this is plainly justifiable; a restaurant in an old building, accessible only by a narrow flight of stairs, discriminates against wheelchair users, but this might be justifiable, depending on the detailed circumstances. 

The court did agree that the rules discriminated against disabled people, but also ruled that the discrimination was justified. How did it come to the conclusion that it was justified? I don't know, because the written decision of the court has not yet been published. But when it is I will be interested to see what it says.

The (slightly) good news

In the case of applicants with disabled children, the court found in favour. This is because there has already been a court case about this, which the government lost at the Court of Appeal in May 2012 (you can see that court's decision here: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2012/629.html ).

You may ask: if the government lost the case in May 2012 why are we still arguing about it now? That's a good question, and one that the judges in the current case were also asking. They weren't very happy. They criticised the government for failing to change the regulations to reflect the Court of Appeal's decision and for, basically, sitting on its hands since then, and required them to make regulations 'very speedily' to allow an extra bedroom where a child needs it because of disability.

What happens next?

The lawyers acting for the applicants are planning to take the appeal further, both in respect of the wider issue of all disabled people, and the issues regarding children. At the moment I'm not absolutely clear why they are challenging the ruling regarding children, as they essentially won, although it seems to relate to a lack of confidence that the ruling will actually make the government do anything, certainly in time for their own clients.

What should you do?

If you have a disabled person in your household, and you rent from a social landlord, and your rent is restricted under the bedroom tax, you should certainly appeal the decision.

It may help to provide the Housing Benefit decision maker with a copy of this document:

http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/u2-2013.pdf

This is the memo the DWP sent to all local authorities in March 2013, saying that they had decided not to appeal the Court of Appeal decision further, and instructing local authorities to adjust their Housing Benefit decisions accordingly. This won't necessarily solve your problems, as local authorities all have this already, and, frankly, don't know what to do with it as the government hasn't actually changed the rules, but you never know.

Unfortunately you are likely to have a long wait before the matter is resolved.

Note that if the disabled person requires overnight care, you are entitled to an extra room for the use of the carer.

When I have more information about this I will let you know: watch this space...

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