‘Bedroom tax’ discriminates against disabled, High Court hears
Financial Times, 15 May 2013 http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d1a02bb4-bd7f-11e2-a735-00144feab7de.html#axzz2Xv2GTd84
The High Court has been asked to consider the legality of the government’s so-called “bedroom tax” on grounds that it may discriminate against disabled people and poses a “real risk” that they will be evicted from their homes.
Since April 1, tenants deemed to have one spare bedroom have seen their housing benefit reduced by 14%, and those with two or more by 25%. Ten families, each with at least one disabled member, claim the new regulations fail to recognise their need for larger accommodation, or the extra difficulty they will face in funding a shortfall.
“There is a serious and real risk of disabled people being evicted”, said Anne McMurdie, a human rights lawyer from one of the firms representing the claimants.
Martin Westgate QC, appearing for the claimants, told Lord Justice Laws: “They each have a need, because of disability, to occupy accommodation larger than that allowed to them under the new size criteria.”
One of the claimants, Jacqueline Carmichael, has spina bifida and needs to sleep in a hospital bed which is too small to share with her husband. There is not enough space for a second bed, so he sleeps in the spare room.
The Department for Work and Pensions has made an additional £25m available, specifically to make discretionary payments to disabled people affected by the benefit cuts.
Mrs Carmichael has been awarded funding to cover the rent arrears for six months, but it is unclear what will happen at the end of that period.
Mr Westgate said the additional funding was not sufficient, and added: “There is nothing to show they gave any thought to how far it would go”.
Lawyers for the DWP insist it has acted within the law, and made provision for those unfairly affected. The reduction in housing benefit expenditure is central to the government’s deficit reduction programme, and the DWP claims it will save £500m a year.
Protesters from a range of campaign groups gathered outside the court to demonstrate against the reforms. Eileen Short from Benefit Justice said: “People have been promised these benefits and now they are having them taken away. It’s unfair, and unjust.”
The case continues.