The Government’s hated ‘Bedroom Tax’ policy was delivered a huge blow today after the Court of Appeal ruled that it unlawfully discriminates against vulnerable people.
Two appeal cases were heard together and in both cases the Court of Appeal ruled that the discrimination against disabled children and victims of domestic violence was unlawful.
The first appeal was brought by an unnamed victim of domestic violence living in ‘Sanctuary Homes’. The women had been subjected to vicious assaults and sexual abuse by an ex partner and argued that the Bedroom Tax, or ‘under-occupation penalty’, puts her and her sons safety at risk.
She lives in a three-bedroom home with her son, specially adapted by the police to provide the family safety from her ex-partner, who has a history of serious violence. The specialist adaptions to the home include a ‘panic space’, reinforced doors, electric alarms and alarms linked to the police station.
Rebekah Carrier, a solicitor acting for the women, said: “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 lives in a property which has been specially adapted by the police, at great expense, to protect her and her child. The prospect of having to move to another property (where she will not have any of these protections) or take in a lodger has loomed large for her during the three years it has taken this case to come to the Court of Appeal.”
Her legal team from Hopkin Murray Beskine solicitors successfully argued that Work and the Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith MP, had failed to take into account the impact of the Bedroom Tax on victims of domestic violence.
Rebekah Carrier said: “She is delighted that the Court of Appeal has recognised the impact that the bedroom tax is having on her and others like her.
“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.”
The second appeal was brought by Paul and Susan Rutherford and their disabled grandson Warren, who has a rare genetic disorder and needs round the clock care.
Warren is unable to walk, talk or even feed himself. His grandparents, who also have their own disabilities, told the court how they need a spare bedroom in their home for a carer to stay overnight and to store disability equipment for Warren.
Disabled adults who need overnight care are exempt from the Bedroom Tax, but this rule does not extend to disabled children. The Court of Appeal ruled that this discriminates against disabled children and is in breach of the Human Rights Act.
Mike Spencer, solicitor at the Child Poverty Action Group, who acts for the Rutherfords, said:
“We are delighted that disabled children will finally be entitled to the same treatment as disabled adults. It is absurd to have a situation where children like Warren might have to go into residential care at vast cost to the taxpayer because their families cannot pay for the housing they need.
“Instead of putting this family through the ordeal of a further appeal, the Government should now think seriously about amending the regulations to protect severely disabled children.”
Labour seized on the two Court of Appeal rulings as proof that the “Bedroom Tax is deeply unfair and discriminatory”, and urged the Government to “discover a conscience” and scrap the policy.
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Owen Smith MP said: “This victory in the Court of Appeal is a massive blow to the Tories’ Bedroom Tax. It provides a glimmer of hope for the hundreds of thousands of people who have been hit by this cruel policy.
“Labour has long argued that the Bedroom Tax is deeply unfair and discriminatory, which is why we have campaigned so hard against it. Surely the time has now come for the Tories to discover a conscience, listen to the courts as well as the public, and scrap the hated Bedroom Tax.”
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett welcomed the court’s ruling and said the Bedroom Tax has had a “corrosive effect on our society”.
Miss Bennett said: “The Green Party welcomes these landmark court of appeal decisions on the lawfulness of the bedroom tax.
“We have long campaigned to scrap the discriminatory bedroom tax and I am proud that Green councillors around the country have pushed hard for there to be no evictions as a result of the bedroom tax.
“This is a tax that has hit the poor and disabled extremely hard and had a corrosive effect on our society.
“It is high time the government is challenged on its policies which force the poor and disadvantaged to pay for the fraud, mistakes and risk-taking of the bankers.
“With the support of only 24% of eligible voters this government does not have a mandate for the massive damage it is inflicting on our society.”
Chartered Institute of Housing deputy Chief Executive Gavin Smart said: “It’s been clear for a long time now that the Bedroom Tax is causing hardship and suffering for thousands of people across Great Britain.
“It is clearly a policy in urgent need of reform if not repeal. We think the government should take the latter option – the Bedroom Tax is not fair and it doesn’t work.”
However, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced its intention to appeal to the Supreme Court, which means there will be no immediate changes to Bedroom Tax legislation.
A DWP spokesperson said: “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.”