Five disabled people who face losing their homes because of the government’s much-criticised “bedroom tax” will ask the court of appeal later this month to rule that the policy discriminates against them.
The five lost their high court case against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) last summer, but subsequently won permission to appeal. The three-day hearing will begin on 20 January.
Housing benefit regulations introduced last April mean that tenants in social housing are punished financially if they are assessed as “under-occupying” their homes.
But the subsequent high court ruling confirmed the government’s position that the regulations apply to disabled adults who need their own bedrooms for impairment-related reasons, but do not apply to disabled children in similar situations.
Anne McMurdie, of Public Law Solicitors, which is representing three of the claimants, said that this “anomalous situation” was “very odd”.
She said: “This case is extraordinarily important to our clients, all of whom need the accommodation that they have and none of whom have the resources to make up the shortfall if they are unsuccessful.
“It leaves them all in a very anxious and insecure position, so it is very important, as it is for the thousands and thousands of other disabled people who are affected.”
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, added: “Thousands of disabled people and their families are being driven into further poverty by the bedroom tax and the failure of the legislation not to discriminate against disabled people.
“This is unacceptable and we hope that the court will rule it is also illegal.”
Freedom of Information Act requests by the National Housing Federation have revealed that nearly a third of disabled people in England who have been affected by the bedroom tax and applied for support were turned down by their local authority.
The Green MP Caroline Lucas told the House of Commons in November that there were 300 council tenants in arrears in her Brighton and Hove constituency who had not been in arrears before the bedroom tax was introduced, and 205 of them were disabled people.
And in a letter to Conservative work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, the Disability Benefits Consortium warned that nine in 10 disabled people affected by the bedroom tax were “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.
The consortium was then forced to correct the prime minister, David Cameron, after he mistakenly told MPs that “disabled people who need an extra room” were “exempt” from the bedroom tax.
The two judges who heard the high court case last summer concluded that the bedroom tax does discriminate against disabled people, but that this discrimination was justified under the Human Rights Act, and was therefore lawful.
The government’s decision to provide some extra funding for discretionary housing payments (DHPs) – which helps some tenants with some of the shortfall in their rent – was seen by the court as a reasonable approach to the difficulties faced by many disabled people.
But McMurdie said that local authorities had made it clear that DHP funding was limited and for short-term use only.
She said that losing the appeal would give the green light to the government to introduce further cost-cutting measures with a disproportionate impact on disabled people, as long as it could prove there was a budgetary “rationale” for such a move.
The high court also ruled last summer that Duncan Smith had fulfilled his public sector equality duty (PSED) under the Equality Act because he had “properly considered” the effects of the bedroom tax on disabled people.
Lawyers for the five disabled claimants will be fighting the case in the court of appeal on the grounds of breaches of both the PSED and the Human Rights Act.
9 January 2014