Artwork by Julia Giles

Legal challenge to the ‘BENEFIT CAP’ dismissed leaving families at risk of destitution and homelessness

In an important judgment delivered today the High Court said that the full impact of the benefit cap had not been appreciated by Parliament or anyone else before its introduction.  The claim had been brought by three women and their children.  All three women had been abandoned by their husbands and were left to look after their young children.  Two of the women had been subjected to severe domestic violence.  As a result of their trauma and the fact that they had to look after young children none of the mothers are able to work.  Despite this they all find themselves caught by the benefit cap, principally because of the high rents charged by private landlords in London.  The court heard that despite the high rents the accommodation provided for these families was inadequate, the worst affected family living in a damp and infested flat.

The evidence before the court was that if these families were to pay their rent they would be forced to live on less than the government’s own destitution levels. Despite the High Court’s clear sympathy with the plight of these families they rejected their claim for judicial review largely because of the hope that they would be re-housed in affordable accommodation by local authorities.

Rebekah Carrier, the solicitor acting for the Claimants said today:

We are disappointed by this judgment. Two of the Claimant families had fled domestic violence. The Court failed to grapple with the difficulties caused by the way that women seeking a safe space for themselves and their children are charged for their accommodation, including in women’s refuges. It is shocking that government ministers failed to ensure they were properly informed about how the cap would actually work in practice and the adverse impact on lone parents, victims of domestic violence and children, The Claimants intend to take this challenge to the Court of Appeal.

Whether or not the cap applies to a particular family is a question of chance. Benefits are being taken away from families who have simply have the bad luck to lose in the housing lottery and end up in expensive private rented or temporary accommodation. The Claimants in this case have, because of violence or homelessness, found themselves in accommodation that is not only too expensive but is also too small, or too damp, or mice infested and very insecure. Many people would be surprised to learn that the amounts left for these families to live on fall below the levels that the government has set as “destitution levels” for asylum seekers. My adult clients did not choose to become homeless, or to live in private rented accommodation which is too small for them but all that they could afford. The children have no choice about the circumstances in which they find themselves, and are facing life in the sort of poverty which is reminiscent of the time when the only option for out of work families was to send their children to the workhouse.


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