Thursday, 02 April 2015

Legal bid fails to stop housing benefit reforms

The High Court has dismissed a claim for a judicial review of the government’s decision to limit housing benefit payments for tenants in the private rented sector.

Charity Zacchaeus 2000 Trust argued the government acted outside the law in the way it implemented the change, and that work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith failed to comply with legislation on equality.

But Justice Underwood ruled the government did have the power to introduce the changes to the way local housing allowance payments are calculated, and was not in breach of section 149 of the Equality Act 2010.

He noted that the legislative grounding for the change is a ‘peculiarly intricate jigsaw puzzle’ and criticised the form of the department’s equality impact assessment, but said the problems did not go far enough to constitute a ‘legal flaw’.

The case concerned the government’s move to limit local housing allowance payment increases to the consumer price index measure of inflation. The government introduced limits on LHA payments in April 2011, and then announced a freeze on the payments for 2012/13, followed by CPI-linked increases.

Previously LHA payments had been set by local housing officers in line with average rents in their areas, and recalculated on a monthly basis.

The government introduced the changes through the Rent Officers (Housing Benefit Functions)(Amendment) Order 2012. Z2K argued this was unlawful because it was outside the government’s legal power – or ultra vires – and the secretary of state failed to comply with his duties under the Equality Act.

The dismissal of the case follows an earlier failed challenge to the government’s welfare reforms, when charity the Child Poverty Action Group argued the LHA caps are unlawful as they disproportionately hit minority families.

Z2K said it would appeal against the latest ruling.

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