Landmark housing benefit ruling provides boost for disabled people
Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Central Government, Local Government
Boost for disabled people after landmark housing benefit ruling
Local authorities should now use a wider interpretation of the term 'adapt the dwelling' when deciding housing benefit allocations for disabled people, the Court of Appeal has ruled.
Previously, the meaning of the word 'adapt' in HB cases related solely to changes to the fabric or structure of the property. However, in the recent case R v. LB Lewisham and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Court of Appeal decided that the term could now also include works such as redecoration or carpeting, which had previously fallen outside the scope of the definition.
The court heard that Mr Mahmoudi moved to a new address and requested that HB be paid for a period of just less than two weeks before his occupancy began. He was a kidney dialysis patient and his new dwelling needed to be thoroughly repainted and redecorated in order to provide a clean environment to allow his home dialysis treatment to take place.
The LA accepted that, due to his disablement needs, it was necessary for these works to be done before he moved in, but refused the claim on the grounds that they were not 'adaptations' as the terms 'adapt the dwelling' required alterations to be made to the structure or fabric of the property, and it was settled law that redecoration did not meet this requirement. Mr Mahmoudi appealed against this decision, but the appeal was dismissed both by the First-tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal.
The Court of Appeal granted Mr Mahmoudi permission to appeal due to the general importance (beyond the facts of his particular case), of establishing how the term 'adapt the dwelling' should be interpreted.
Appeal judges allowed Mr Mahmoudi’s appeal on the basis that, in this context, the term 'adapt' should not be rigidly defined as requiring a particular type of work to be undertaken and ruled that the interpretation previously accepted at Upper Tribunal level was too restrictive.
The court took the view that a case-by-case examination was required, taking into account the work being done to the property and setting it against the claimant’s disablement and the needs arising from it.
The question to be asked was whether the claimant’s disablement needs (or those of a family member living with them) made it reasonably necessary for that work to be completed before the claimant moved in. If the delay in moving in was reasonable and the works were reasonably required before the claimant and his family could move in, then the dwelling was being adapted to meet a disablement need.
The Court of Appeal’s decision means that local authorities (LAs) should no longer use the narrower interpretation, and must instead look on a case-by-case basis at the disablement needs of the claimant or any relevant family member who lives with them.
In a HB circular issued this week, the DWP has provided examples of how the new ruling may affect HB claims:
Mr A has significant difficulties with balance and coordination. He currently lives on an upper floor in a block with no lift access, and is moved by his housing association to a ground floor flat. This flat currently has polished wooden floors, which would be a health hazard to Mr A due to his condition. His move to the new address is delayed for a week to allow the polished floors to be covered by carpets. He claims a dual payment of HB for his new property for the week before he moves in. The LA decides that Mr A is eligible for HB on two homes as the delay in moving is reasonable, there is a clear connection between the adaptations being made and Mr A’s disablement needs, and the works are reasonably required before he is able to move in.
Miss B, who is wheelchair bound, is moving from her present owner-occupied house to a single-floor dwelling. It has been left in poor condition by the previous tenant and so must be fully redecorated before Miss B is able to move in. She makes a claim to the LA for HB to be awarded for the first two weeks of her tenancy before she takes up occupation. The LA refuses her request as, although the delay in moving is reasonable, there is no connection between her disability and the works which are being carried out.
Miss C suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder and has anxiety problems. She has been allocated a property by her LA, which is being thoroughly repainted and having its carpets replaced with tiling so that it is easier for Miss C to keep clean. Miss C requests HB for the first two weeks of her tenancy whilst she is waiting for the redecorations to be completed. The LA allows her claim as there is a direct connection between the work being carried out and her disability. The Upper Tribunal has ruled that 'disablement' includes mental as well as physical conditions and it is necessary for the works to be carried out before she moves in to prevent Miss C from suffering distress.