Five disabled adults have won permission to take their legal battle against the government’s “bedroom tax” to the Supreme Court.
The five – including Jayson and Jacqueline Carmichael, from Southport – were seeking the hearing after a “baffling” court of appeal ruling last February that the new housing benefit regulations were lawful.
But it could take as long as 15 months for the appeal to be heard by the Supreme Court, although lawyers for the five are considering applying for an earlier hearing.
The court of appeal ruled last year 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 was justified, and therefore lawful.
The regulations, introduced in April 2013, 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 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 who needed an extra room, their need for help with their rent was better dealt with by DHPs than housing benefit.
The government believes that the SRSR 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.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “As at least two-thirds of those affected by bedroom tax are disabled people who have a range of important support and access needs which are being totally ignored by bedroom tax legislation, this case is of vital importance in ensuring disabled people’s rights are upheld.
“We know that the empty rhetoric that the ConDems espouse that disabled people’s needs will be met through the use of DHPs is simply another of their untruths and that many disabled people are having such payments refused.
“Added to those issues, the lack of available, affordable and accessible housing makes the bedroom tax particularly unjust for those who do have specific housing needs.”
Two law firms, Public Law Solicitors and Leigh Day, representing the five disabled adults, will take the legal challenge to the Supreme Court.
Anne McMurdie, from Public Law Solicitors, which represents three of the disabled adults, said: “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.”
15 January 2015