Today, the Court of Appeal has ruled that the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ is
unlawful because of its impact on vulnerable individuals. The Court of
Appeal dealt with two appeals together and in both cases ruled that the
discrimination against victims of domestic violence and disabled children
was not lawful.
One appeal, brought by a woman known only as ‘A,’ concerned the effect of
the policy on women living in ‘Sanctuary Scheme’ homes – properties which
are specially adapted because of risks to the lives and physical safety of
women and children who live in them. The second appeal, brought by Paul
and Susan Rutherford and their grandson Warren, concerns the impact of the
policy on seriously disabled children who need overnight care. In both
appeals, the judges accepted that the bedroom tax policy unlawfully
discriminates – against women and domestic violence victims, and against
seriously disabled children requiring overnight care.
This appeal 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. Her housing
benefit has been reduced by 14% given the Secretary of State’s policy.
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.
Her legal team (solicitor Rebekah Carrier at Hopkin Murray Beskine and
barristers Karon Monaghan QC, Matrix Chambers, and Caoilfhionn Gallagher
and Katie O’Byrne, Doughty Street Chambers) argued that the Secretary of
State had 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 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, totaling 281 households across the
country. The vast majority of people in the Sanctuary Scheme are women.
Rebekah Carrier, the solicitor acting for A, said:
“These changes to housing benefit have had a catastrophic impact upon
vulnerable people across the country. Our client’s life is at risk
and she is terrified. The anxiety caused by the bedroom tax and the
uncertainty about this case has been huge. She lives in a property
which has been specially adapted by the police, at great expense, to
protect her and her child. The prospect of having to another property
(where she will not have any of these protections) or take in a lodger
has loomed large for her during the three years it has taken this case
to come to the Court of Appeal. She is a vulnerable single parent who
has been a victim of rape and assault. She is delighted that the
Court of Appeal has recognised the impact that the bedroom tax is
having on her and others like her. She very much hopes that the
Secretary of State will now see sense and agree to change the rules to
protect 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.
An investment has been made in keeping these vulnerable women safe and
to move families in these circumstances 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.”
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.
The Rutherford Appeal
Paul and Susan Rutherford care for their severely disabled grandson,
Warren, in a special-adapted three bedroom bungalow in Pembrokeshire.
Warren has a rare genetic disorder, Potokoi-Shaffer Syndrome, and is unable
to walk, talk or feed himself and requires24 hour care. In the judgement
handed down today, the Court found that the ‘bedroom tax’ discriminates
against disabled children in breach of the Human Rights Act.
Both Paul and Susan have disabilities themselves and can only care for
Warren with the help of paid carers who stay overnight on a regular basis.
The couple was hit by the bedroom tax for their third bedroom which they
need for the carers to stay in overnight and for storing disability
equipment for Warren. The current regulations allow for an additional
bedroom if a disabled adult requires overnight care but not for a disabled
child in the same situation. The Court found that this unlawfully
discriminates against disabled children and cannot be justified.
The family had launched a judicial review challenging the ‘bedroom tax’
which reduces housing benefit payments to tenants deemed to be
under-occupying their accommodation. They have been receiving
discretionary payments from the local authority to cover the shortfall in
rent but the Court found this policy was not adequate as there is no
guarantee it would continue to be available to them in the future.
Lord Thomas CJ found that the failure of the Secretary of State to make
provision in the regulations for overnight carers of disabled children
amounted to unlawful discrimination contrary to Article 14 of the European
Convention on Human Rights. It was “very difficult to justify the treatment
within the same regulation of carers for disabled children and disabled
adults, where precisely the opposite result is achieved: provision for the
carers of disabled adults but not for the carers of disabled children.” The
Secretary of State had also failed to have regard to the best interests of
disabled children when devising the regulations.
Mike Spencer, solicitor at the Child Poverty Action Group, who acts for the
‘We are delighted that disabled children will finally be entitled to
the same treatment as disabled adults. It is absurd to have a
situation where children like Warren might have to go into residential
care at vast cost to the taxpayer because their families cannot pay
for the housing they need. Instead of putting this family through the
ordeal of a further appeal, the Government should now think seriously
about amending the regulations to protect severely disabled children.’