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24.02.14

Disabled campaigners lose ‘bedroom tax’ legal case

Campaigners against the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ have pledged to fight on after losing their fight at the Court of Appeal on Friday.

Judges said that neither the bedroom tax (which the government calls the removal of the spare room subsidy) nor the benefit cap are unlawful.

Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls, said the challenges could only succeed if the government’s measures “were manifestly without reasonable foundation”, but that that this test was not satisfied.

The five disabled tenants who had their appeal quashed and their lawyers said an appeal to the Supreme Court was being considered. Ugo Hayter, from law firm Leigh Day, representing two of the disabled appellants, said: “We are extremely disappointed by this judgment and we are baffled by the findings of the Court of Appeal.

“The court recognised that our clients and thousands of disabled people across the UK had a need for accommodation not provided for by the new housing benefit rules; however the court decided that disabled tenants should not have their housing needs met on an equivalent basis to their able bodied counterparts just because they are disabled. Instead, disabled tenants are being forced to rely on short term and discretionary payments.”

But a DWP spokesperson said: “We are pleased that the courts have once again found in our favour and agreed this policy is lawful. Reform of housing benefit in the social sector is essential to ensure the long term sustainability of the benefit. But we have ensured extra discretionary housing support is available for vulnerable people.”

They added: “The benefit cap sets a fair limit to what people can expect to get from the welfare system – so that claimants cannot receive more than £500 a week, the average household earnings.”

The court ruled that while the policy does discriminate against the disabled, the discrimination was justified and had been mitigated by top-up payments.

Lord Justice Longmore said: “It is not easy to see how a department implementing that policy can successfully advance ‘equality of opportunity’ for the disabled but the whole point of the policy was that it should apply equally to all people who under-occupied their accommodation.

“I am satisfied that the discrimination, which undoubtedly existed, was justified.”

Richard Kramer, deputy chief executive of Sense, the national deafblind charity, said: “We know from our experiences of supporting deafblind people that the bedroom tax has adversely affected disabled people. Many have been found to have a so-called extra bedroom despite requiring it because of their disability, for example needing extra space to store disability-related equipment and for short-term carers.

“Many disabled people, including the deafblind people that Sense supports, have been pushed to breaking point. They are struggling with the transition from DLA (Disability Living Allowance) to PIP (Personal Independence Payment) and many are facing huge cuts to their social care, leaving them without the support they desperately need to live full and active lives.

“Alongside other benefits being cut, housing benefit has been the final blow for many disabled people and can lead to serious financial hardship. We are urgently calling on the Government to reconsider this unfair policy and to prevent disabled people from suffering financially as a result of their disability.”

(Image shows protest groups against the government's ‘bedroom tax’ outside the High Court in London on Friday. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

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