The High Court will consider, over 3 days starting tomorrow (Wednesday 15th May), 10 claims being brought against the Government’s ‘Bedroom Tax’, the new housing benefit regulations that came into force on 1st April this year.
These new regulations will reduce housing benefit for tenants in the social sector who have been assessed as under-occupying their accommodation.
The claims are made by a range of people who seek to challenge the new housing benefit regulations on the grounds that they discriminate against persons who require larger accommodation for reasons relating to their disability.
Since 1 April, persons deemed to have 1 spare bedroom have had their housing benefit reduced by 14% and persons deemed to have 2 or more spare bedrooms have had their housing benefit reduced by 25%.
The government claims that they have made financial resources available in recognition of the serious effects on the claimants of these new regulations, through the Discretionary Housing Payment scheme. However, those represented in this action argue that the DHP fund is simply not large enough to come close to meeting the needs of those affected.
3 law firms are representing the Claimants: Hopkin Murray Beskine, Leigh Day and Public Law Solicitors.
Rebekah Carrier of Hopkin Murray Beskine said:
“My clients are disabled children and their families who don’t have a ‘spare’ room. Two of the families I represent have fled serious domestic violence and have only recently been able to settle down in their new, safe homes. One family who were able to move to a suitable home after many years in appalling housing conditions have been told that their son would need to go into residential care if they moved to a smaller home. This would cost the tax payer hundreds of thousands of pounds and would separate a disabled child from his family.
“My clients can’t simply increase their hours of work, because of their children’s needs. They can’t take in lodgers because they don’t have a spare room. There are also obvious safety concerns about taking in a lodger in a family where there are vulnerable children. Many families up and down the country are, like my clients, desperately worried about losing their homes”
Ugo Hayter from the Human Rights team at Leigh Day said:
“We hope that the Court will rule that these Regulations are discriminatory in that they completely fail to make any provision for those who need larger accommodation as a result of their or their family members’ disability.
“We hope that the government will be made to amend these Regulations and reverse the devastating consequences currently being experienced by thousands of people with disabilities around the country.”
Anne McMurdie from Public Law Solicitors said:
“The Government has failed to recognise that many people with disabilities will not be able to make up the shortfall in rent by working or taking in a lodger; and many will not be able to move due to the nature of their disabilities.
“Left unchanged these measures will see disabled people facing eviction and homelessness.”
Law Firm Hopkin Murray Beskine are representing 5 families (names have been changed for anonymity)
The first family consists of a husband and wife and their two children Jack who is 6 and Roza who is 2 who currently live in a two-bedroom property in South London on the third floor of a block of flats, which is unsuitable for Jack’s needs as he is disabled. The husband, Ramzi, has had to adapt his working patterns to help care for Jack, therefore the family need help from housing benefit to pay their rent.The family needs to move for a number of reasons related to Jack’s condition however if they are allocated and accept a home which meets their children’s needs their housing benefit will be cut on the basis that they are ‘under-occupying’ despite the fact that they will only be allocated accommodation appropriate to their needs.
The second family represented by Hopkin Murray Beskine became homeless in 2011 when the then partner of the mother, Holly, assaulted her 6-year-old son Isaac, leaving him traumatised. After her ex-partner was jailed Holly made a homelessness application. The family were assessed as requiring 3-bedroom accommodation because of Isaac’s behavioural and mental health issues. Holly received a letter from her local authority informing her that she was under-occupying and that her housing benefit will be cut by £15.52 a week from 1st April 2013.
Jane and Adam and their two sons have lived in their current home since July 2012. Their home is a three-bedroom bungalow, which they rent from the local authority in North London.Under the local authority’s allocation scheme a family of this size would usually be assessed as requiring a two-bedroom property. Brothers aged 10 and 12 would be expected to share a bedroom. However the family was assessed as requiring an additional bedroom as 10-year-old Thomas is severely autistic with a learning disability associated with significant challenging behaviour. He is described by his psychiatrist a having, “profound emotional, behavioural and learning disabilities” .
Ms T and her husband live in a one bedroom flat with their sons. One son has autism and one son has Downs Syndrome. Their flat is damp and infested with mice. The child with autism sleeps in the bedroom, as he needs his own space. The parents and the child with Downs syndrome sleep on the floor in the living room. Because of the boys conflicting needs they have been assessed as needing three bedrooms by the council, but like Jack and Roza’s family, if they move to suitable accommodation they wont be able to pay for it because of the bedroom tax.
Ms N lives with her son and daughter in London. About three years ago she and the children left the home of her very violent partner. With help from social services they have managed to settle in a new home away from the children’s violent father, who does not know where they live. One of the children is autistic and is violent including towards his sister. He has his own room. He finds change difficult and would be unsettled by having to move. Comfort works as a dinner lady: this fits well with the children’s school hours. Since learning about the bedroom tax she has become anxious with awful memories of the time when she was homeless because of violence. The children are well settled in their local school. She cant work more hours. She can’t take in a lodger: she does not have a spare room and her son’s behaviour would make it very difficult to have a lodger anyway.
Hopkin Murray Beskine website:
Law Firm Leigh Day are representing
Jacqueline Carmichael and Richard Rourke
Jacqueline Carmichael lives with her husband in a two-bedroom housing association flat. She has spina bifida and is severely disabled. Mrs Carmichael’s condition means that she has to sleep in a hospital bed with an electronic pressure mattress and has to sleep in a fixed position. Mr Carmichael cannot sleep in this bed with her as it is not large enough for two people and his movements at night could cause her harm. There is not enough space in her bedroom for a second bed so Mr Carmichael sleeps in a second bedroom.
Since 1 April, the Carmichaels have had their housing benefit reduced by 14%. They have now been granted a Discretionary Housing Payment to cover the shortfall in their rent for six months, but they do not know how they will meet their rent when the period ends. Mr Carmichael considered the option of seeking employment to cover the shortfall in the rent, however if he did this, as full time carer to his wife, Mrs Carmichael would need to go into residential care. This is therefore not a viable option.
Richard Rourke is a widower. He is disabled and uses a wheelchair. He is a council tenant and lives in a three-bedroom bungalow. His stepdaughter is currently a university student and is also disabled with a rare form of muscular dystrophy. She lives in halls of residence during term time but returns home for the full summer vacation, at holiday periods and at weekends when she can.
Mr Rourke uses the third bedroom, which is a box room measuring 8 x 9 feet, to store his equipment including a hoist for lifting him, his power chair and his shower seat.
Mr Rourke has enquired in the social rented sector about the availability of two bedroom properties, which are suitable for wheelchair use, and there are none. There are also no suitably adapted properties in the private sector.
Since April 2013, Mr Rourke has had his housing benefit reduced by 25%, on the basis that he is under-occupying by two bedrooms. Mr Rourke’s only income is from benefits; he cannot work; and his day-to-day living costs are increased due to his disabilities, he has not been able to pay the shortfall in his rent of £25.38 per week. Mr Rourke made an application for Discretionary Housing Payment in March 2013, however it has not yet been decided. He is currently accruing rent arrears.
Leigh Day website:
Law Firm Public Law Solicitors are representing James Daly, Mervyn Drage and JD (whose details have been anonymised)
James Daly has a severely disabled son. He and his ex-partner when his son was approximately eighteen months. Since that time Mr Daly and his ex-partner have shared his son’s care. Mr Daly’s son stays with him every weekend and at least one day during the week. He also lives with Mr Daly for part of the school holidays and whenever his mother is away. Following the separation from his ex-partner Mr Daly moved into housing association rented property. In 2008, following an application for allocation of a two bedroom accessible ground floor property, he was awarded a priority level within the local housing authority’s allocation scheme which recognised that his then accommodation was unsuitable due to his son’s disability, and that Mr Daly had a high priority need to move. Mr Daly was offered his present accommodation three years ago. He occupies a two bedroom flat on the ground floor which has level access throughout and also has access to a garden front and back. Mr Daly’s son can mobilise throughout the property. Under the Housing Benefit rules Mr Daly is deemed to be over-occupying his property by one bedroom (his son’s room).
Mervyn Drage is a single man who lives alone. Mr Drage occupies a three bedroom flat in a high-rise tower block, on the site of a former colliery. The property was initially built to house miners and their families, but the flat was let to him because the local housing authority considered it unsuitable for families. He has lived there for 19 years. He has a number of significant mental health problems (depression, anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, OCD) and various physical problems. These conditions are exacerbated by stress, anxiety and changes to routine. Mr Drage does not sleep in any of his three bedrooms, all of which contain papers, which he has accumulated (as does his bath). He is settled in the flat and the area, feels safe there, and is very anxious about the prospect of having to move and disruption to his routines.
JD lives with her 26-year-old daughter, AD. JD and AD occupy a specially adapted three-bedroom property. They have lived there for about twenty years. AD has a twin brother who previously lived in the house but has now moved out (leaving 1 spare room). AD has severe physical disabilities, learning disabilities and blindness. JD provides full-time care for AD. The property was specially constructed to meet AD’s needs, with input from the family, an occupational therapist and a property development team. AD’s home is extremely important to her in maintaining her psychological security in her surroundings. As a result of her learning disabilities and blindness it would be difficult for her to manage the transition to a new home and there are concerns requiring her to move would have a significant impact on her psychological emotional and behavioural well being.
Public Law Solicitors website:
The hearing is due to start at 10:30amon Wednesday 15th May
Court Number: 3
Lawyers for the claimants will be at the Royal Courts of Justice in London from 9:30am and will be available for interview. None of the claimants will be attending.
A number of groups will be organising a vigil tomorrow morning from 9:30am outside the Royal courts of Justice in solidarity with the claimants taking challenges against the bedroom tax – these include Disabled People Against Cuts, Taxpayers Against Poverty, Camden United for Benefit Justice, Single Mothers’ Self-Defence, and WinVisible (women with visible and invisible disabilities).
Head of Media Relations
0844 800 4981