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High Court to hear legal challenge to 'Bedroom Tax' for domestic violence victim

HOPKIN MURRAY BESKINE SOLICITORS, DOUGHTY STREET CHAMBERS AND WOMEN’S AID

 Tuesday 18 November, 10AM

Press Release

HIGH COURT TO HEAR LEGAL CHALLENGE TO ‘BEDROOM TAX’ FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIM

On Wednesday 19 and Thursday 20 November 2014, the High Court will hear a judicial review challenge to the ‘bedroom tax’ and its impact upon women living in ‘Sanctuary Scheme’ homes.  The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, is defending the claim, having unsuccessfully argued at a hearing in June 2014 that it should be dismissed.

The claim is brought by a woman known only as ‘A’ because her identity must be protected for her own safety.  She is a victim of rape, assault, harassment and stalking at the hands of an ex-partner. She challenges the under-occupation provisions/ size criteria, colloquially known as the ‘bedroom tax’.  She claims that the housing benefit regulations which have introduced the scheme are discriminatory and will have devastating consequences for her and her 11-year-old son. 
 
Under the ‘bedroom tax’, A and her son are only entitled to receive housing benefit for a 2-bedroom property.  However they live in a 3-bedroom property which has been specially adapted for them by the police pursuant to a Sanctuary Scheme, because her life and physical safety are at risk from her ex-partner who has a history of serious violence. 

The Sanctuary Scheme aims to enable householders at risk of violence to remain safely in their own home by installing a ‘Sanctuary’ within the home and provide support to the household.  A has had a ‘panic space’ installed in her home, as well as a specialist ‘sanctuary system’.  This includes expensive reinforced doors, electric alarms, a marker on the house and alarms linked to the police station. 

A’s housing benefit has been reduced by 14% given the Secretary of State’s policy.   

Her legal team (solicitor Rebekah Carrier at Hopkin Murray Beskine and barristers Caoilfhionn Gallagher and Katie O’Byrne at Doughty Street Chambers) argue that the Secretary of State has failed to take into account the disproportionate impact of the ‘bedroom tax’ upon victims of domestic violence, who are overwhelmingly women, and in particular those in Sanctuary Scheme homes.

According to figures obtained in FOI responses from 79 local authorities, almost 1 in 20 households using the Sanctuary Scheme for people at risk of severe domestic violence have been affected by the under-occupancy penalty or bedroom tax, totalling 281 households across the country.

Rebekah Carrier, the solicitor acting for A, said:

“These changes to housing benefit are having a catastrophic impact upon vulnerable people across the country.  Our client’s life is at risk and she is terrified.  She lives in a property which has been specially adapted by the police, at great expense, to protect her and her child.  It is ridiculous that she is now being told she must move to another property (where she will not have any of these protections) or else take in a lodger.  She is a vulnerable single parent who has been a victim of rape and assault.  The Secretary of State cannot seriously suggest that it is appropriate for her to take a stranger into her home.”

A’s claim is supported by evidence from the charity Women’s Aid on the prevalence of domestic violence and on the important function of Sanctuary Schemes in providing protection and preventing homelessness for those at risk.  Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said:

“Sanctuary schemes are created to keep extremely vulnerable women and children safe, at a time when they are trying to rebuild their lives after surviving domestic violence. An investment has been made in keeping these women safe and to move these families out of their homes is a false economy as it will cost further money to provide security as the new property, and this may provide a reduced level of safety, putting them at risk. It is important to remember that on average two women every week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales – protecting abused women and their children is a matter of life and death, and we should always remember this.”

 



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