Saturday, 28 November 2015

Government may have to alter regulations if it doesn’t appeal

Court ruling could force rethink on bedroom tax

The government could be forced to make changes to its controversial bedroom tax policy following a Court of Appeal ruling this week.

On Tuesday the court found that housing benefit rules for private rented tenants discriminate against disabled people, after three claimants challenged the Department for Work and Pensions.

The Housing Benefit Regulations 2006, which restrict local housing allowance according to property size, were found to be discriminatory because they do not allow benefit to be paid for an extra room where two children cannot share because of disabilities, the court ruled.

This means the government, barring a costly appeal to the Supreme Court or amendments to the Welfare Reform Act, will have to alter the regulations or make more funding available to remove the discrimination.

Lawyers said the decision will affect the government’s regulations to prevent under-occupation in the social housing sector, which are based on those for the private rented sector.

The policy, which will take effect from next April, will see under-occupying social tenants of working age docked £14 a week for a spare room and £25 a week for two spare rooms.

Giles Peaker, solicitor in housing and public law at Anthony Gold, said: ‘I would expect this [verdict] to also apply to the social housing size criteria.

‘If the government did not change them I would expect disability groups to apply for judicial review on the grounds it is fundamentally irrational given the ruling.’

Lucy James, partner at Trowers & Hamlins, said the case is likely to have implications for social housing tenants and could also open up social landlords to challenges under the Equalities Act.

Sam Lister, policy and practice officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said he did not expect the ruling to affect large numbers of tenants, but that it could cost the government ‘tens of millions’ of pounds out of the £500 million [a year] it expects to save from the policy.

He said the government may look elsewhere to claw this money back.

Mr Lister said: ‘We would be concerned about there being nasty consequences elsewhere.’

A DWP spokesperson said: ‘The government will carefully consider its response to the Court of Appeal judgment handed down.’

An independent report - commissioned by the DWP and carried out by Sheffield Hallam, the University of Oxford and Ipsos Mori - examining the impact of LHA changes will be published in the week beginning 11 June.

Bedroom tax: who is only allowed to live in a single room?

  • A couple
  • An adult
  • Two children of the same sex (under 16)
  • Two children under 10 years of age
  • A child
  • An extra bedroom is allowed for overnight non-resident carers

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