Disabled tenants lose Court of Appeal bedroom tax challenge
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Central Government, Legal
People with disabilities challenging the bedroom tax have said that they will continue to fight after the Court of Appeal this morning upheld last year’s High Court ruling that the government’s controversial under-occupancy policy is lawful.
Though the court's judges found that the bedroom tax discriminates against people with disabilities, they were 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 DHPs than housing benefit.
Anne McMurdie, from Public Law Solicitors, one of the law firms 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.”
In July 2013, 10 claimants represented by three law firms argued that bedroom tax discriminates against people with disabilities.
The High Court accepted that the rules are discriminatory but decided that for disabled adults the discrimination was justified and therefore lawful, though 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 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 law firm 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.
Ugo Hayter, from law firm Leigh Day, 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 added: “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."
Responding to the judgement, the National Housing Federation's head of policy, Kevin Williamson, said: “We are deeply disappointed with the outcome of today’s Court of Appeal judgement. The fact that disabled people are being forced to take the government to court to challenge the bedroom tax shows how desperate their situation is.
“Disabled people across the country are being forced to cut back on food and heating to pay the bedroom tax. The government said Discretionary Housing Payments would protect them but one in three disabled people who applied for it were turned down.1
“Many thousands have also had their homes adapted at great cost due to their disabilities. They are now being told they should move even though there are not enough smaller homes available – and any new home would also need adaptations paid for by taxpayers.
“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 the bedroom tax now.”