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Court of appeal grants permission to appeal in benefit cap challenge

The Court of Appeal has recognised the urgency of an appeal against the
decision of the High Court dismissing an application for judicial review
brought by three children and their lone parent mothers.

In granting permissions to appeal and allowing these children to continue
their challenge to the Government’s flagship ‘benefit cap’ policy, Lord
Justice Richards has ordered that the hearing must be expedited and heard
as soon as possible, given the “public importance of this test case” and
the potential impact of any delay on those affected by the cap.

All three women have been left by their husbands to look after their young
children. Two of the women have been subjected to severe domestic
violence. As a result of their trauma and the fact that they have to look
after young pre-school 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 is very poor and inadequate, the worst
affected family living in a damp and rodent 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.
The benefit cap policy involves the ‘capping’ of benefits, including
housing benefit, child benefit, and child tax credit to families who do not
work sufficient hours to qualify for Working Tax Credit. It is set at £500
per week for families, regardless of their family size, housing costs or
circumstances. The Government has acknowledged that the policy
disproportionately affects lone parents (who are overwhelmingly women).
Children are also hard hit: children are nine times more likely to be
affected than adults, and 98% of households affected by the cap have
children. The families argue that the benefit cap is discriminatory
against women and children, and in particular against families that have
escaped domestic violence, many of whom have particularly high housing
costs in refuges or temporary accommodation. The policy is also said to
discriminate against particular races and religions with large families,
including Orthodox Jews, Catholics and Roma families.

When the families’ case was dismissed by the High Court on November 5th the
High Court stated that the full impact of the benefit cap had not been
appreciated by Parliament or anyone else before its introduction, and the
judges were very sympathetic to the plight of these families. The High
Court acknowledged that the steps recommended by the Government to avoid
the benefit cap were fanciful for these families – for good reasons they
are unable to work sufficient hours to avoid the cap, to move outside
London or to budget. The sums which they are left to live upon once rent
is paid are impossible.

Rebekah Carrier of Hopkin Murray Beskine solicitors who act for the three
families said:

‘These families find themselves caught by the cap because of accidents of
geography combined with the circumstances of their family breakdown
including in two cases their flight from violence with their children. All
three families are extremely anxious about where they will be able to live
and how they will afford to feed their children. Since the hearing at the
beginning of this month they have been awaiting the outcome of their
requests to their local authorities for assistance in resolving their
housing problems. They are hopeful that the Court of Appeal will consider
their cases as soon as possible, because the sums of money involved mean
that after even a short period of “capping” they may be left homeless and
with a burden of debt that they would have no prospect of repaying’.

Despite the High Court’s clear sympathy with their plight, their claim for
judicial review was rejected largely because of the hope that they would be
re-housed in affordable accommodation by their local authorities. The
families have been attempting to secure affordable, suitable housing from
their local authorities to no avail, and they do not consider that it is
realistic for the Government or the Courts to expect local authorities to
‘do the impossible – provide cheaper housing to all of those affected by
the benefit cap who are unable to escape its effects at a time when their
budgets have been cut by central Government.

A hearing date in the Court of Appeal is awaited.

Published On: November 29, 2013|

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