Disabled ask High Court to rule bedroom tax unlawful

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THE High Court has been asked to declare that the Government’s so-called bedroom tax unlawfully discriminates against disabled people in social housing.

New housing benefit regulations, introduced on April 1, led to reductions in benefit payments to tenants assessed to be under-occupying accommodation.

Under new criteria, tenants with one spare bedroom have had a payment reduction of 14 per cent and those with two or more spare, a reduction of 25 per cent.

Human rights lawyers say that, unless the families move into smaller properties, they face building up rent arrears and being forced out anyway.

Ten cases have been brought before the High Court in London which are said to illustrate the serious impact of the regulations on disabled people.

Martin Westgate QC, appearing for the 10, told judges the regulations were flawed because they failed to deal with the needs of the disabled and the amount of space and the number of rooms they realistically needed if they were not to suffer discrimination because of their disabilities.

In some cases they needed more room than people without disabilities because they could not share with other family members or needed extra space to store equipment. In others the regulations were failing to make proper provision for families with a disabled member who needed additional accommodation because of that disability.

He is asking the court to rule that the new regulations breach the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects against discrimination.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says the reality is that “a spare room subsidy” has been removed from social tenants. DWP lawyers say reduction of rising housing benefit expenditure is an “integral aspect” of the Government’s deficit reduction programme, and the change is expected to produce savings of £500m a year.

Among the 10 is widower Richard Rourke, of Whitwell, near Worksop, who has had his housing benefit reduced by 25 per cent on the basis that he has two bedrooms spare. The wheelchair user has a disabled stepdaughter at university who needs one of the rooms when she comes home and the other room he uses to store essential equipment, including a hoist for lifting him, a power chair and shower seat.