Artwork by Julia Giles

Benefit Cap Judgment - 21 February 2014

 

Two lone parent families seek appeal to Supreme Court over disciminatory benefit cap policy.

The Court of Appeal today (21 February 2014) held that the government’s flagship ‘benefit cap’ policy discriminates against women, but that the discrimination is justified because it “reflects the political judgment of the Government.”  The Court dismissed an appeal brought by two lone parents and their children who sought to challenge the lawfulness of the government's flagship benefit cap policy.


The Court of Appeal also described as “a matter of some concern” the Government’s delay in addressing recognised problems with the benefit cap’s application to many women’s refuges, despite Lord Freud promising in April of last year that the issue would be addressed. However the Court accepted the Government’s assurance that they intend to act on this issue.


Both families in this appeal have fled violent marriages with their children, and live in overcrowded privately rented accommodation as they have not been able to obtain council housing. Because of this, they find themselves caught by the £500 per week benefit cap. These families have been hit by the cap because of their flight from violence and because of high private sector rents which they cannot avoid. The benefit cap threatens to leave them with so little disposable weekly income that they will have to choose between feeding their children and paying their rent. The government has recognised that the likely consequence of the cap is homelessness for thousands of families.

Victims of domestic violence are more likely to be affected by the cap because of the high cost of refuge accommodation and their entitlement to double housing payments when they have to flee their family home because of a risk of violence. 

The Appellants’ appeal was supported by Women’s Aid and there was substantial evidence before the Court about the impact of the cap on domestic violence victims.

Rebekah Carrier of Hopkin Murray Beskine Solicitors who represents the Appellants said:

"We are very disappointed with the decision of the Court of Appeal and hope to continue this challenge in  the Supreme Court. In particular it is disappointing that the Court declined to decide important issues of principle affecting the large numbers of women and children made homeless by domestic violence every year.  The Government promised to address this in April 2013, ten months ago, but has failed to do so.  The Court recognised the problem and expressed concern about the Government’s delay in addressing it, but they have abandoned many domestic violence victims to their fate until the Government chooses to act.  That is not good enough for my clients, or for the many women who will face a stark choice about whether to stay with a violent partner, or flee and risk losing their home or being destitute.

The benefit cap is already causing serious hardship to families across the country and to local authorities who are struggling to find accommodation for homeless families in crisis. It is not an exaggeration to say that the long term impact of the cap is going to trap some women and children in violent relationships, leave others hungry, homeless and isolated at times of crisis. The government seeks to justify the cap by the financial savings achieved but the long term consequences of this arbitrary benefit cap are likely to have not only devastating consequences for individual children but serious financial costs as the fallout impacts on other public services including social services, education and the justice system."

 



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