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A landmark legal battle being brought by people with disabilities against the ‘bedroom tax’ has received permission to go to the Supreme Court.
Last year’s Court of Appeal decision, which upheld a previous High Court judgement that the new housing benefit regulations were lawful, led those challenging the bedroom tax to take the case to the highest court in the UK.
In July 2013 the High Court accepted that the new housing benefit rules did indeed discriminate against disabled adults, but found that the discrimination was justified and therefore lawful.
The High Court did concede that, for a disabled child, unable to share a bedroom with another child because of their disabilities the discrimination caused by the new housing benefits rules was not justified.
In February 2014 adults with disabilities took their case to the Court of Appeal arguing that they should be entitled to full Housing Benefit for the accommodation they actually need as a result of their disabilities. They argued that the bedroom tax was discriminatory on the grounds that it impacted those with disabilities disproportionately.
Jayson and Jacqueline Carmichael from Southport, who were part of the legal action, sought an appeal on the grounds that their position was indistinguishable from that of the disabled children who were now exempted.
However, the Court of Appeal refused this argument on the basis that the differential treatment of adults and children was reasonable and justified.
Since the changes in housing benefit charities, social landlords, local authorities and advice agencies as well as the United Nations Special Rapporteur have spoken out about the plight of people with disabilities who have been affected by the measure.
Two law firms, Leigh Day and Public Law Solicitors, representing those five adults with disabilities, will now take the legal challenge to the Supreme Court later this year.
Ugo Hayter, representing Mr and Mrs Carmichael, said: “This is a very positive step as we are able to continue the fight on behalf of our clients against the bedroom tax.
“The Court of Appeal last year 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 continue to be forced to rely on short term and discretionary payments.
“Our thoughts remain with the thousands of disabled tenants who, almost 2 years on from the introduction of the bedroom tax, continue to be faced with uncertainty, poverty and risk of eviction from these regulations.”
Public Law Solicitors’ Anne McMurdie, representing three of the adults bringing the appeal added: “The decision by the Supreme Court to grant permission for the appeals to proceed is a recognition of the importance of the issues raised by our clients.
“The government has sought to make savings by targeting the most vulnerable in our society. On the government’s own figures at least 440,000 disabled households are losing out as a result of the bedroom tax.
“There is compelling and growing evidence of the terrible adverse impact on disabled tenants, having to make the dreadful choice between paying the rent and buying food or heating their homes.
“Disabled tenants are not asking for special treatment, they are asking for housing benefit to be paid at a level which meets their needs – for the same rights as others. Discretionary payments are not the answer.”
John Gallagher, principal solicitor for the housing charity Shelter, said: “People with disabilities frequently require extra space for gear or have residences which have been specially adapted to make their lives simpler and these who fear losing their household are in real distress about what will take place to them.”
Philip Connolly, policy officer at Disability Rights UK, said it was “mystifying” why disabled adults had been being treated differently from disabled children
He added: “Why should really it matter if you are one day after your 16th birthday or one day just before? It is an iniquitous tax. Why should really people today be forced to uproot themselves simply because they have a spare area?”
The “bedroom tax” has been extremely controversial since its inception in April 2013. Let us know your thoughts below.
I, personally, have a real issue with the bedroom tax. My mum has MS and uses a wheelchair and we moved into a specialist property when I was about 11 so that mum could actually get around. This includes a lift, turning circles, a wet room and all those sorts of things that the average property just doesn't have or need. Me and my siblings have since moved out leaving my mum in a three bedroom home.
When the bedroom tax came in my mum started looking for smaller property (she likes to play fair). There just wasn't anything available even close to our area! Forget specialist disabled property, there weren't even any suitable bungalows.
A few months ago we finally found a bungalow that we thought might do the trick but the corridors were not wide enough for the wheelchair to fit down.
Realistically her only options were to leave the community that supports her (extremely difficult for someone with cognitive problems as new information can leaves her muddled and she may end up having a fit), move into a property where she has to crawl to use the toilet or lose a big wedge of her already minimal income. Now that her care allowance has also been cut it means that she has less care time and her standard of life has been spiralled downwards.
In theory the bedroom tax works. On the ground there simply aren't options for people to move into meaning that all that's happening is that the very poor and the disabled are having their benefits squeezed further.
Beth I am familiar with your mother's situation as my late wife suffered from MS and died, not directly from MS, but as a result of too little physical activity, too many hours in a wheelchair. Disabled people need every penny they can get and my wife was fortunate in being reasonably affluent and able to afford luxuries like a stair lift and many disabled adaptations. The bedroom tax for such individuals is daft as the local authority has probably spent thousands on adapting a property and will have to spend a similar amount on the next property.
It is one of the few situations where non payment of the rent (bedroom tax part only) is in my opinion justified particularly if you have a local authority as a landlord - wait for the court action and then let the public outcry solve the situation. I am however well aware that disabled people are not able to cope with such stress and of course they should not have to.
I hope that they win the challenge in the supreme court. The fact that the case is there is an indication that we have a government which does not care.
I am now a trustee of a small charity fighting to get an effective treatment for MS.
The frustrating thing is, as you said, many of those with disabilities simply don't have the energy or feel well enough o stand up for themselves, let alone access to fancy lawyers. I'm glad I'm not the only one thinking the bedroom tax is immoral!
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