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Bedroom tax discriminatory, says European court

28 October 2019

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The so-called ‘bedroom tax’ unlawfully discriminates against vulnerable victims of domestic violence, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled.

A v the United Kingdom concerned the effect of the bedroom tax policy on women living in ‘sanctuary scheme’ homes – properties specially adapted to enable women and children at serious risk of domestic violence to live safely in their own homes.

A victim of rape and other crimes at the hands of a former partner, challenged the government’s reduction in housing benefit for ‘under-occupation’ of social housing (the bedroom tax). 

The bedroom tax meant the victim (A) and her son are only entitled to receive housing benefit for a two-bedroom property; but they live in a three-bedroom property specially adapted for them by the police under a sanctuary scheme. 

The ECHR found that the bedroom tax unlawfully discriminates against A and others in her position – contradicting an earlier ruling of the Supreme Court that while the government had a positive obligation to provide sanctuary scheme housing for women who need it, there had been no unlawful discrimination in A’s case.

The ECHR ruled that the aim of the bedroom tax – to encourage people to leave their homes for smaller ones – was in conflict with the aim of sanctuary schemes, which was to enable those at risk of domestic violence to remain in their homes safely.

As the government provided no “weighty reasons” to justify the discrimination, it was unlawful. 

Hopkin Murray Beskine director, Ann Bevington, who acted for A, said the housing benefit changes have had a “catastrophic impact” on vulnerable people across the country. 

On average, she said, two women every week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales and protecting abused women and their children “is a matter of life and death”.

She added: “We now call on the Secretary of State to take swift action in response to today’s ruling, and to change the rules to exempt from the bedroom tax the small but extremely vulnerable class of women and children who need the safety of a sanctuary scheme whilst they try to rebuild their lives after surviving domestic violence.”

The full judgment can be read here.

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