Artwork by Julia Giles

Grand Chamber Of European Court Of Human Rights Rules Against The United Kingdom In Gender Violence ‘Bedroom Tax’ Case

VICTIM CALLS FOR GOVERNMENT TO CHANGE THE LAW WITHOUT DELAY

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has rejected the UK Government’s request to reconsider the ‘bedroom tax’ case of A v the United Kingdom. The UK Government has been found to have unlawfully discriminated against vulnerable victims of domestic violence. ‘A’ and her legal team now call on the UK Government to execute the Court’s judgment and end this discrimination without delay.

Background
In October 2019 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ unlawfully discriminates against vulnerable victims of domestic violence. The application to the Court was brought by a woman known only as ‘A’ because her identity must be protected for her own safety. The case concerned the effect of the ‘bedroom tax’ policy on women living in ‘Sanctuary Scheme’ homes – properties which are specially adapted to enable women and children at serious risk of domestic violence to live safely in their own homes.

A is a victim of rape, assault, harassment and stalking at the hands of an ex-partner. Her challenge was to the UK Government’s reduction in housing benefit for ‘under-occupation’ of social housing, colloquially known as the ‘bedroom tax’.  She claimed that the housing benefit regulations which introduced the scheme are discriminatory and have devastating consequences for her and her young son.  Under the ‘bedroom tax’, A and her son are only entitled to receive housing benefit for a two-bedroom property.  However, they live in a three-bedroom property which has been specially adapted for them by the police under the Sanctuary Scheme.  This includes a panic space and extensive security measures.  A’s housing benefit has been reduced by 14% because of the UK Government’s policy.

According to figures obtained in freedom of information 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.  The vast majority of people in the Sanctuary Scheme are women.

Unlawful Discrimination
The European Court of Human Rights in October 2019 found that the ‘bedroom tax’ unlawfully discriminates against A and those in her position. It also awarded A €10,000 because of the distress caused to her by the Government’s policy.

The Court found that A was particularly prejudiced by the 'bedroom tax’ because her situation was significantly different from other housing benefit recipients because of her gender (paragraph 94).  The aim of the ‘bedroom tax’ (to encourage people to leave their homes for smaller ones) was in conflict with the aim of Sanctuary Schemes (to enable those at risk of domestic violence to remain in their homes safely).  The Government did not provide any “weighty reasons” to justify the discrimination, so it was unlawful.  The Court also noted that in the context of domestic violence, “States have a duty to protect the physical and psychological integrity of an individual from threats by other persons, including in situations where an individual’s right to the enjoyment of his or home free of violent disturbance is at stake” (paragraphs 103-105).
 
UK Government’s Failed Appeal
In January 2020, the UK Government sought to appeal the European Court of Human Rights’ decision to the Grand Chamber of the Court. However, A has now been informed that the Grand Chamber has refused this application, and the judgment has now become final. Today, A and her legal team call on the Government to take action immediately.

A’s solicitor, Rebekah Carrier of Hopkin Murray Beskine Solicitors, said:

“Our client, whose life is at risk, has suffered great anxiety as a result of the bedroom tax and the uncertainty about this case.  She is a vulnerable single parent who has been a victim of rape and assault, and she lives in a property which has been specially adapted by the police, at great expense, to protect her and her child.  She has had to fight the UK Government for seven years to protect her right to be safe in her own home. She is delighted that after such a long battle, the European Court of Human Rights has recognised the impact that the bedroom tax is having on her and others like her, and the Grand Chamber has refused the UK Government’s last-ditch attempt to appeal this finding.

We now call on the UK Government to take swift action and to change the rules to exempt from the bedroom tax 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 Domestic Abuse Bill, currently making its way through Parliament, is the obvious route to correct this injustice and protect A and others in Sanctuary Scheme homes.”

Lucy Hadley, Campaigns & Policy Manager at Women’s Aid Federation of England said:

“For women and children experiencing domestic abuse, safe housing can be a matter of life and death. The government has committed to improving protection and support survivors through the new Domestic Abuse Bill, but current welfare policies such as the ‘bedroom tax’ clearly undermine this aim. We call on the government to act now to protect all survivors in sanctuary schemes from this injustice, and assess all welfare reform policies on how they impact the safety of women and children experiencing domestic abuse.”

In a factsheet published earlier this week, on 3rd March 2020, the Government stated that Domestic Abuse Bill 2020 will provide “further protection” for victims of domestic abuse. Victoria Atkins MP, Minister for Safeguarding, said, “Domestic abuse is an abhorrent crime perpetrated on victims and their families by those who should love and care for them. This landmark Bill will help transform the response to domestic abuse, helping to prevent offending, protect victims and ensure they have the support they need.” A and her legal team have urged the UK Government to ensure that the commitment to protecting and supporting victims extends to A and others like her.

For more information on Women’s Aid Federation or Doughty Street Chambers

Victoria Derbyshire interviewed Rebekah Carrier regarding this case.

View articles from the Mirror & Independent

The full Judgement can be read here

 



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