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High Court to hear legal challenge to ‘Bedroom Tax’ for domestic violence victim

HOPKIN MURRAY BESKINE SOLICITORS, DOUGHTY STREET CHAMBERS AND WOMEN’S AID

Tuesday 18 November, 10AM

Press Release

HIGH COURT TO HEAR LEGAL CHALLENGE TO ‘BEDROOM TAX’ FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
VICTIM

On Wednesday 19 and Thursday 20 November 2014, the High Court will hear a
judicial review challenge to the ‘bedroom tax’ and its impact upon women
living in ‘Sanctuary Scheme’ homes. The Secretary of State for Work and
Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, is defending the claim, having unsuccessfully
argued at a hearing in June 2014 that it 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/ 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.

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.

A’s housing benefit has been reduced by 14% given the Secretary of State’s
policy.

Her legal team (solicitor Rebekah Carrier at Hopkin Murray Beskine and
barristers Caoilfhionn Gallagher and Katie O’Byrne 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, totalling 281 households across the country.

Rebekah Carrier, the solicitor acting for A, said:

“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.”

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. Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said:

“Sanctuary schemes are created to keep extremely vulnerable women and
children safe, at a time when they are trying to rebuild their lives after
surviving domestic violence. An investment has been made in keeping these
women safe and to move these families 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.”

Published On: November 18, 2014|

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