Five disabled people who face losing their homes because of the much-criticised “bedroom tax” have vowed to fight on, after a “baffling” court of appeal ruling that the new housing benefit regulations are lawful.
The court ruled today (21 February) that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) regulations – referred to by the government as the spare room subsidy removal (SRSR) policy – do discriminate against some disabled people, but that this discrimination is justified, and therefore lawful.
The housing benefit regulations introduced last April mean that tenants in social housing are punished financially if they are assessed as “under-occupying” their homes, with about two-thirds of those affected disabled people.
Many disabled people need extra rooms for impairment-related reasons, or find it impossible to move to smaller accommodation because of the shortage of accessible, affordable properties.
But the judges ruled today that the needs of disabled people subject to the bedroom tax were being met by the payment of discretionary housing payments (DHPs) – extra funds provided by the government to local authorities to distribute – and that for disabled people in need of an extra room their need for help with their rent was better dealt with by DHPs than housing benefit.
The five lost their high court case against DWP last summer, but subsequently won permission to appeal. A three-day hearing began on 20 January, with the court of appeal’s ruling delivered this morning.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “We are obviously disappointed that discrimination against disabled people continues to be considered lawful and justified.
“How that can be the case remains deeply disturbing and we will be following up this ruling with continued legal action, if necessary all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.”
Ugo Hayter, from the law firm Leigh Day, who is representing two of the disabled claimants, 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.
“We are currently considering whether an appeal to the Supreme Court is possible. Our thoughts go out to the thousands of disabled tenants who continue to be faced with uncertainty, poverty and the risk of eviction.”
Anne McMurdie, of Public Law Solicitors, who represented the other three claimants, said: “In figures provided during the course of the hearing the government made clear that the fund for discretionary payments will be reduced by £15 million next year.”
She added: “On the government’s own figures, at least 440,000 disabled households will lose out under the new regulations.
“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 extra funds – they are asking for housing benefit to be paid at a level which meets their needs – for the same right as others. Discretionary payments are not the answer.”
The high court’s ruling confirmed the government’s position that the regulations should apply to disabled adults who need their own bedrooms for impairment-related reasons, even though disabled children in similar situations are now exempt.
The Disability Benefits Consortium has warned that nine in 10 disabled people affected by the bedroom tax are “having to cut back on food and heating to pay the shortfall in rent”, with many forced “deeper and deeper into debt” and at risk of eviction.
21 February 2014