DWP defends benefit reforms in court
The Department for Work and Pensions has vigorously defended its housing benefit reforms at the High Court.
The charity Child Poverty Action Group believes the national cap on local housing allowance payments and a restriction preventing payments exceeding the cost of renting a four bedroom home are illegal. It has asked Justice Supperstone to quash the measures, which came into effect following secondary legislation in April.
CPAG yesterday claimed in court that the secretary of state for Work and Pensions had acted outside the powers of the Housing Act 1996 by setting caps that do not take into account local availability of accommodation.
It says the policy will increase homelessness in high rental areas, contrary to the aim of the scheme.
But the DWP today (Friday) argued that there is no requirement in the legislation that housing benefit should enable claimants to live in any area they choose, regardless of the implications for public policy and public finances.
James Eadie, representing the DWP, said: ‘It is not accepted that the statutory purpose of the scheme is to prevent homelessness.
‘The purpose of the scheme is to support those less well off but to do so in a way that does not impose an undue burden on the taxpayer, who funds the scheme.’
Mr Eadie said it is impossible that Parliament intended that the control of public expenditure on housing benefit should be moved from the ‘democratically accountable’ secretary of state to local rent officers.
CPAG also alleged that the DWP had failed to comply with general equality duties under the Race Relations Act 1976 and Sexual Discrimination Act 1975. These impose a general duty to ‘have due regard to the need’ to eliminate discrimination.
CPAG says the DWP failed to carry out enough research to establish the impact on black and minority ethnic families of the four bedroom limit.
Mr Eadie said the DWP carried out two different equality impact assessments and noted BME families are likely to be disproportionately affected by the four bedroom limit. He said the limitations of available data meant it could not provide the specific impact.
Mr Eadie said: ‘The unavailability of data did not mean the secretary of state failed to have due regard to equality issues.’
The DWP’s submission to the court said even if it had found the reforms would have a disproportionate effect on ethnic minority households it would still have proceeded with them.
It said: ‘The secretary of state would have proceeded to implement the proposed measures in light of the strong socio-economic imperatives.’
A ruling is expected to be published in the next few weeks.