Saturday, 28 November 2015

Appeal plans axed following bedroom tax changes

The government has ditched plans to appeal a legal ruling concerning a housing benefit claim for disabled children following changes to its ‘bedroom tax’ announced yesterday.

The Department for Work and Pensions has issued an urgent bulletin saying it will not take its appeal over the ‘Gorry versus Wiltshire Council’ case to the Supreme Court.

The Court of Appeal ruled in May last year the local housing allowance size criteria discriminated against the Gorry family on grounds of disability.

One child had spina bifida and the other had Down’s Syndrome. The court ruled children with severe disability could not always be expected to share a bedroom because of additional needs they may have due to their disability.

Housing benefit rules state children under the age of 10 should share a room regardless of gender, and those under the age of 16 should share if they are the same sex. The Gorry case related to a claim for housing benefit to cover private rented sector costs, but the same size criteria will be used for the social housing sector under the ‘bedroom tax’, which comes in from 1 April.

This will reduce housing benefit payments for social housing tenants of working age who are deemed to be under-occupying. Yesterday work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith announced exemptions for foster carers and parents of members of the armed forces. He also said guidance would make it clear that councils should use discretionary payments to support families with severely disabled children.

The urgent bulletin, released yesterday, said: ‘The secretary of state has today clarified the position regarding disabled children and has decided not to pursue the appeal further.

‘This means that from the date of the Court of Appeal judgement on 15 May 2012, local authorities should allow an extra bedroom for children who are unable to share because of their severe disabilities.’

Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: ‘This is a tremendous victory for disabled children and it’s a victory for common sense.

‘In the case Child Poverty Action Group represented, it was clearly not possible for a child with spina bifida and another with Down’s Syndrome to share a bedroom together with such different demands and needs. It’s absolutely right that the housing benefit system should respond to challenges like this, and it is clear discrimination if it does not.’

A spokesperson for the DWP said: ‘It was always our intention that foster carers and armed forces personnel would be covered by discretionary housing payments and therefore not affected. We will now adjust the regulations to give greater certainty that these families will retain their entitlement to a spare bedroom.’

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