Lawyers representing a disabled couple who have successfully challenged a Council’s decision to take disability benefits into account when calculating Bedroom Tax support, say the ruling could have significant consequences across England and Wales.
In a landmark judgement handed down at the High Court yesterday (30 March), Mr Justice Phillips ruled that Sandwell Council’s policy of counting the care component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) as income when assessing applications for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) is illegal, and amounts to a breach of the Equality Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.
DHPs are short-term payments people can apply for from local authorities if they are struggling to keep up with housing costs, which can include households affected by the Bedroom Tax.
Mr and Mrs Hardy had lived in their council house for around 20 years before being hit by the hated Bedroom Tax’, which resulted in their Housing Benefit being slashed for having a ‘spare room’.
Despite being more than willing to downsize to a smaller property, a shortage in available suitable properties meant they had no choice but to take the hit.
Sandwell Council’s policy meant that, due to receiving the care component of DLA, the couple were only eligible to receive a small amount of DHP. This left them in the unenviable position of having to find money to make up the shortfall in their rent – money they didn’t have.
In making his judgement, Mr Justice Phillips said the Council’s policy “constitutes a failure to exercise the Council’s discretion and fetters any future exercise of that discretion”.
He added: “The Council’s approach is an example of indirect or Thlimmenos discrimination because it treats disabled applicants and their disability-related income in exactly the same way as it treats others and their non-disability related incomes, giving rise to unfavourable treatment to the disabled applicants.”
Solicitor Fiona Mcghie, who was part of the team who represented the couple, said the High Court’s decision “will have far-reaching consequences”.
“The council’s policy has been struck down as being unlawful”, she said
“Where the bedroom tax leaves a black hole in a disabled person’s household budget – the council cannot demand that they fill that black hole with DLA.
“Today’s decision is an important one which provides important clarity on whether councils should include disability related benefits as income when considering applications for DHP to help with housing costs.
“This ruling has ensured that the voices of our clients have been heard and I believe the decision will have far-reaching consequences for a number of local authorities adopting similar policies.
“It is vital that the welfare of vulnerable people always comes first and every council should ensure this is a core focus.”
She continued: “We have long-believed this issue is a no-win situation – our clients were given a small amount of DHP due to receiving the care component of DLA, and therefore had to use disability benefits to meet costs which should be met by housing support.
“Sandwell Council’s policy meant our clients were in a really difficult situation, as not only had they been adversely affected by the bedroom tax, but they also then faced further hardship as a result of having less DLA to spend on their care needs.
“With no alternative accommodation available, they were left in a ‘no win’ scenario.
“Today’s ruling is an important step forward that recognises how the existing council policy simply failed to consider how disabled people would be adversely affected by the treatment of the care component of DLA as income and we are delighted to have helped them succeed in their challenge.”