In an important judgment delivered today the High Court said that the full
impact of the benefit cap had not been appreciated by Parliament or anyone
else before its introduction. The claim had been brought by three women
and their children. All three women had been abandoned by their husbands
and were left to look after their young children. Two of the women had
been subjected to severe domestic violence. As a result of their trauma
and the fact that they had to look after young 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 was inadequate, the worst
affected family living in a damp and 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. Despite the High Court’s clear sympathy with the plight
of these families they rejected their claim for judicial review largely
because of the hope that they would be re-housed in affordable
accommodation by local authorities.
Rebekah Carrier, the solicitor acting for the Claimants said today:
We are disappointed by this judgment. Two of the Claimant families had fled
domestic violence. The Court failed to grapple with the difficulties caused
by the way that women seeking a safe space for themselves and their
children are charged for their accommodation, including in women’s refuges.
It is shocking that government ministers failed to ensure they were
properly informed about how the cap would actually work in practice and the
adverse impact on lone parents, victims of domestic violence and children,
The Claimants intend to take this challenge to the Court of Appeal.
Whether or not the cap applies to a particular family is a question of
chance. Benefits are being taken away from families who have simply have
the bad luck to lose in the housing lottery and end up in expensive private
rented or temporary accommodation. The Claimants in this case have, because
of violence or homelessness, found themselves in accommodation that is not
only too expensive but is also too small, or too damp, or mice infested and
very insecure. Many people would be surprised to learn that the amounts
left for these families to live on fall below the levels that the
government has set as “destitution levels” for asylum seekers. My adult
clients did not choose to become homeless, or to live in private rented
accommodation which is too small for them but all that they could afford.
The children have no choice about the circumstances in which they find
themselves, and are facing life in the sort of poverty which is reminiscent
of the time when the only option for out of work families was to send their
children to the workhouse.