The High Court has ordered that a judicial review challenge to the ‘bedroom tax’ and its impact upon women living in ‘Sanctuary Scheme’ homes should proceed to a full hearing, and this hearing must take place before the end of the year. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, unsuccessfully argued that the claim should be dismissed.
The claim 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, 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 young son.
Under the Secretary of State’s scheme, ‘A’ and her 11-year-old 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, because her life and physical safety are at risk from her ex-partner who has a history of serious violence. She has had a ‘panic space’ installed in her home, and a specialist ‘sanctuary system’ installed. This includes expensive reinforced doors, electric alarms, a marker on the house and alarms linked to the police station. 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 been told that her housing benefit is to be reduced by 14% given the Secretary of State’s policy.
Her legal team (solicitor Rebekah Carrier at Hopkin Murray Beskine and barrister Caoilfhionn Gallagher at Doughty Street Chambers) argue that the Secretary of State has 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 FOI 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. This is 281 households in total across the country.
Rebekah Carrier, the solicitor acting for ‘A,’ said:
“I am delighted that the High Court has granted permission and ruled that this claim should proceed to a full hearing. These changes to housing benefit are having a catastrophic impact upon vulnerable people across the country. Our client’s life is at risk and she is terrified. She lives in a property which has been specially adapted by the police, at great expense, to protect her and her child. It is ridiculous that she is now being told she must move to another property (where she will not have any of these protections) or else take in a lodger. She is a vulnerable single parent who has been a victim of rape and assault. The Secretary of State cannot seriously suggest that it is appropriate for her to take a stranger into her home.”
This claim is supported by the charity Women’s Aid. They have provided evidence in support of A’s claim.