Disabled grandparents vow to fight on over ‘bedroom tax’


newslatestTwo grandparents who care for their disabled grandson and have been hit by the “bedroom tax” are to continue their fight for justice, despite a high court defeat.

Paul and Susan Rutherford, who are both disabled, care for 14-year-old Warren in their adapted three-bedroom bungalow in Pembrokeshire, Wales.

Warren needs 24-hour care by at least two people, and two paid care workers stay overnight in their bungalow at least twice a week.

But because of the bedroom tax – or the spare room subsidy removal (SRSR), as it is called by the government – the family were found to be “under-occupying” their home and had their housing benefit cut by 14 per cent.

Although they were originally refused a discretionary housing payment (DHP) to fill this gap, Pembrokeshire council later reversed its decision, and the family have now been granted DHP until April 2015.

The SRSR regulations, introduced in April 2013, mean that tenants in social housing are punished financially if they are assessed as “under-occupying” their homes.

Although the rules allow for an extra bedroom if the claimant or their partner needs overnight care, this does not apply to families with a disabled child.

The Rutherfords claim that the Conservative work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith is unlawfully discriminating against them and others in similar situations.

Although the court granted the Rutherfords permission to apply for judicial review, it then dismissed their application.

Mr Justice Stuart-Smith said the bedroom tax had been introduced to meet “a compelling social and political objective at a time of extreme national financial austerity”, and that the way the scheme operated to achieve that “policy objective” was not inappropriate or “disproportionate in its adverse effect”.

He said that there was “at present adequate assurance that the claimants will continue to benefit from awards of DHPs to plug the gap that would otherwise exist”.

He added: “If the scheme or other circumstances were to change materially, different considerations might apply; but they do not apply now.”

Paul Rutherford, who is Warren’s step-grandfather, said he and his wife – who are represented by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) – were “disappointed” with the ruling, and would appeal.

He said: “In his judgement, Mr Justice Stuart-Smith did say that Pembrokeshire council ought to ensure that we continue to get the discretionary housing payment, which is a good thing.

“However the DHPs are no real guarantee, they may be stopped by the government in the future. There is nothing to say that they will go on forever.

“In any case, there are other families with disabled children, in other parts of the country, who don’t get these payments. That in itself is completely unfair. A discretionary housing payment is just that – it is discretionary.”

Mike Spencer, CPAG’s solicitor, added: “Paul and Sue work round the clock to care for Warren and have the constant fear hanging over them that Warren might lose his home and have to go into care.”

In April, the Commons work and pensions select committee said the bedroom tax was causing “severe financial hardship and distress” to disabled people who could do nothing to avoid its impact, and was having a “particular impact” on those who have adapted homes or need an extra room to hold medical equipment or accommodate a care worker.

4 June 2014