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Grand Chamber Of European Court Of Human Rights Rules Against The United Kingdom In Gender Violence ‘Bedroom Tax’ Case

VICTIM CALLS FOR GOVERNMENT TO CHANGE THE LAW WITHOUT DELAY

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has rejected the UK
Government’s request to reconsider the ‘bedroom tax’ case of A v the United
Kingdom. The UK Government has been found to have unlawfully discriminated
against vulnerable victims of domestic violence. ‘A’ and her legal team now
call on the UK Government to execute the Court’s judgment and end this
discrimination without delay.

Background
In October 2019 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the so-called
‘bedroom tax’ unlawfully discriminates against vulnerable victims of
domestic violence. The application to the Court was brought by a woman
known only as ‘A’ because her identity must be protected for her own
safety. The case concerned the effect of the ‘bedroom tax’ policy on women
living in ‘Sanctuary Scheme’ homes – properties which are specially adapted
to enable women and children at serious risk of domestic violence to live
safely in their own homes.

A is a victim of rape, assault, harassment and stalking at the hands of an
ex-partner. Her challenge was to the UK Government’s reduction in housing
benefit for ‘under-occupation’ of social housing, colloquially known as the
‘bedroom tax’. She claimed that the housing benefit regulations which
introduced the scheme are discriminatory and have devastating consequences
for her and her young son. Under the ‘bedroom tax’, A and her son are only
entitled to receive housing benefit for a two-bedroom property. However,
they live in a three-bedroom property which has been specially adapted for
them by the police under the Sanctuary Scheme. This includes a panic space
and extensive security measures. A’s housing benefit has been reduced by
14% because of the UK Government’s policy.

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, totalling 281 households across the
country. The vast majority of people in the Sanctuary Scheme are women.

Unlawful Discrimination
The European Court of Human Rights in October 2019 found that the ‘bedroom
tax’ unlawfully discriminates against A and those in her position. It also
awarded A €10,000 because of the distress caused to her by the Government’s
policy.

The Court found that A was particularly prejudiced by the ‘bedroom tax’
because her situation was significantly different from other housing
benefit recipients because of her gender (paragraph 94). The aim of the
‘bedroom tax’ (to encourage people to leave their homes for smaller ones)
was in conflict with the aim of Sanctuary Schemes (to enable those at risk
of domestic violence to remain in their homes safely). The Government did
not provide any “weighty reasons” to justify the discrimination, so it was
unlawful. The Court also noted that in the context of domestic violence,
“States have a duty to protect the physical and psychological integrity of
an individual from threats by other persons, including in situations where
an individual’s right to the enjoyment of his or home free of violent
disturbance is at stake” (paragraphs 103-105).

UK Government’s Failed Appeal
In January 2020, the UK Government sought to appeal the European Court of
Human Rights’ decision to the Grand Chamber of the Court. However, A has
now been informed that the Grand Chamber has refused this application, and
the judgment has now become final. Today, A and her legal team call on the
Government to take action immediately.

A’s solicitor, Rebekah Carrier of Hopkin Murray Beskine Solicitors, said:

“Our client, whose life is at risk, has suffered great anxiety as a
result of the bedroom tax and the uncertainty about this case. She is
a vulnerable single parent who has been a victim of rape and assault,
and she lives in a property which has been specially adapted by the
police, at great expense, to protect her and her child. She has had
to fight the UK Government for seven years to protect her right to be
safe in her own home. She is delighted that after such a long battle,
the European Court of Human Rights has recognised the impact that the
bedroom tax is having on her and others like her, and the Grand
Chamber has refused the UK Government’s last-ditch attempt to appeal
this finding.

We now call on the UK Government to take swift action and to change
the rules to exempt from the bedroom tax 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. The Domestic Abuse Bill, currently making
its way through Parliament, is the obvious route to correct this
injustice and protect A and others in Sanctuary Scheme homes.”

Lucy Hadley, Campaigns & Policy Manager at Women’s Aid Federation of
England said:

“For women and children experiencing domestic abuse, safe housing can
be a matter of life and death. The government has committed to
improving protection and support survivors through the new Domestic
Abuse Bill, but current welfare policies such as the ‘bedroom tax’
clearly undermine this aim. We call on the government to act now to
protect all survivors in sanctuary schemes from this injustice, and
assess all welfare reform policies on how they impact the safety of
women and children experiencing domestic abuse.”

In a factsheet published earlier this week, on 3rd March 2020, the
Government stated that Domestic Abuse Bill 2020 will provide “further
protection” for victims of domestic abuse. Victoria Atkins MP, Minister for
Safeguarding, said, “Domestic abuse is an abhorrent crime perpetrated on
victims and their families by those who should love and care for them. This
landmark Bill will help transform the response to domestic abuse, helping
to prevent offending, protect victims and ensure they have the support they
need.” A and her legal team have urged the UK Government to ensure that the
commitment to protecting and supporting victims extends to A and others
like her.

For more information on Women’s Aid Federation or Doughty Street
Chambers

Victoria Derbyshire interviewed Rebekah Carrier regarding this case.

View articles from the Mirror & Independent

The full Judgement can be read here

Published On: March 6, 2020|

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