Benefit Cap Judgment

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.”

Published On: 21/02/2014|
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