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Court of Appeal declares ‘bedroom tax’ unlawful

Government called upon to amend regulations to protect vulnerable women and disabled children

27 January 2016

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The government's introduction of regulation B13 - the so-called 'bedroom tax' - into the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 has been ruled unlawful because of its impact on vulnerable people, the Court of Appeal has held.

A joint appeal saw Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas and Lord Justices Tomlinson and Vos rule that the regulations discriminated against victims of domestic violence and disabled children.

One appeal, brought by a woman known only as 'A', a victim of rape, concerned the effect of the policy on women living in 'sanctuary scheme' homes - properties specially adapted because of the risks to the safety of women and children who live in them.

The second appeal, brought by Paul and Susan Rutherford, concerned the policy's impact on seriously disabled children who require overnight care.

The government's bedroom tax saw housing benefit reduced by 14 per cent for families with one extra bedroom or by 25 per cent for families with two.

A's appeal

A and her 11-year-old son live in a three-bedroom property specially adapted by the police pursuant to the sanctuary scheme, due to risks to her safety from her ex-partner.

A 'panic space' was installed in the home, as well as a specialist 'sanctuary system', which includes reinforced doors and alarms linked to the police station.

A's legal team argued that the secretary of state had failed to take into account the disproportionate impact of the 'bedroom tax' upon victims of domestic violence.

Rebekah Carrier, a solicitor at Hopkin Murray Beskine, said: 'These changes to housing benefit have had a catastrophic impact upon vulnerable people across the country. Our client's life is at risk and she is terrified. The anxiety caused by the bedroom tax and the uncertainty about this case has been huge.

'She very much hopes that the secretary of state will now see sense and agree to change the rules to protect 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.'

Rutherford appeal

Paul and Susan Rutherford care for their severely disabled grandson, Warren, in a specially adapted three-bedroom bungalow in Pembrokeshire. Warren requires 24-hour care due to suffering from the rare genetic disorder Potokoi-Shaffer Syndrome and is unable to walk, talk, or feed himself.

Paul and Susan, who are also both disabled, were hit by the bedroom tax due to their third bedroom, which paid carers stay in overnight when looking after Warren. The current regulations only allow for an additional bedroom if a disabled adult requires overnight care, not for a disabled child.

The Lord Chief Justice found the secretary of state's failure to make provision in the regulations for disabled children was unlawful discrimination contrary to article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said it was 'very difficult to justify the treatment within the same regulation of carers for disabled children and disabled adults, where precisely the opposite result is achieved'.

However, the Court of Appeal has granted permission to the government to appeal to the Supreme Court. A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions told the BBC that the government 'fundamentally' disagreed with the ruling and would appeal.

'We know there will be people who need extra support. That is why we are giving local authorities over £870m in extra funding over the next five years to help ensure people in difficult situations like these don't lose out.'

Mike Spencer, a solicitor at the Child Poverty Action Group, urged the government to amend the regulations rather than put the Rutherfords through a further appeal.

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Divorce Vulnerable Clients Courts & Judiciary