National charities have warned that thousands of the most vulnerable in society are now in fear of losing their homes, or of having to go without food or heating to keep them.
The tax – or “spare room subsidy” as it is described by the Government – is aimed at tenants deemed to be living in social accommodation with extra bedrooms.
Under the new rules, introduced in April, housing benefits have been cut by 14 per cent for those with one spare bedroom and by 25 per cent for those deemed to have two or more spare.
Expected to save about £500m annually, the measure is part and parcel of the Government’s bid to tackle “welfare dependency and unaffordable spending”.
The Government says a system of additional funding in the form of discretionary housing payments (DHPs) through local authorities is in place for those in difficulties, including the disabled, but critics say the funds are insufficient.
Yesterday two judges at London’s High Court ruled that applying the cap to disabled people was based on “a reasonable foundation” and lawful.
The judges rejected arguments that the cap discriminated against the disabled because their spare rooms are often needed to store special equipment or to provide a bed for a care assistant.
Lord Justice Laws, sitting with Mr Justice Cranston, ruled the effects of the cap had been “properly considered” by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith before he introduced it in April. The introduction of DHPs meant it could not be said to be a disproportionate approach, the judge added.
After yesterday’s judgment, however, lawyers for the ten disabled people who brought test cases said they would now go to the Court of Appeal.
Richard Stein, from solicitors Leigh Day, said: “Our clients are bitterly disappointed with [the] decision, but they are not defeated.
“We, along with the other lawyers acting on behalf of adults with disabilities, will appeal this judgment and we remain confident that the discrimination which was recognised by the court and which has been perpetrated against our clients by this legislation is not justified and is unlawful.”
Disabled widower Richard Rourke, who was among the 10, said he faced eviction from his home in Bakestone Moor, Whitwell, near Worksop, over rent arrears.
Since April Mr Rourke, 46, a wheelchair user, has had his housing benefit reduced by 25 per cent on the basis he has two spare bedrooms in his three-bedroom bungalow.
But he says one was for his stepdaughter Rebecca, who has a rare form of muscular dystrophy. She is at university but comes home for the holidays and at weekends, when she can.
The third bedroom, a box room, is used to store his disability aids, including a hoist, his power chair and his shower seat.
Mr Rourke is £251 in rent arrears and fears it will only get worse.
Speaking after yesterday’s ruling, he said: “They make us feel like scroungers and as if we are sub-human.”
Charities working with the disabled were also scathing in their criticism.
Shelter chief executive Campbell Robb said: “This ruling is devastating news for disabled adults and families with disabled or vulnerable children, who’ll be put at real risk of homelessness for having a bedroom they just can’t do without.”
National Housing Federation chief executive David Orr described the situation as “desperate”, with disabled people being forced to cut back on food and heating to keep their homes.
He added: “The fact that disabled people are being forced to take the Government to the High Court to challenge the bedroom tax shows how desperate their situation is.”
Sense, the national charity acting for the deaf and blind, reported a “huge increase” in the number of people struggling to make ends meet and fearing being evicted.
A spokesman for the Department for Work & Pensions said: “We are pleased to learn that the court has found in our favour and agreed that we have fulfilled our equality duties to disabled people.
“Reform of housing benefit in the social sector is essential, so the taxpayer does not pay for people’s extra bedrooms.”