High Court: council tax reduction scheme does not discriminate on disability grounds

Wed,11 November 2015
News Benefits Equality & Rights

A local authority’s council tax reduction scheme that required a minimum 15% payment from working age residents did not discriminate on the grounds of disability, says the High Court.  

Mr Mark Logan received income based employment and support allowance and disability living allowance. His health conditions were unlikely to improve for him to be able to work in the future and he had been placed in the ESA support group.

He lived in the London Borough of Havering. In the financial year 2014/2015 it had a scheme where people with Mr. Logan’s level of income and disability received a council tax rebate of 100%.

All reductions in liability had to be funded by Havering itself. With central government imposing further cuts in the support grant paid to local authorities it reviewed its council tax reduction scheme for 2015/2016. The new scheme that meant all working age claimants had a minimum 15% council tax liability regardless of their means.

As a result, Mr Logan was assessed as having eligibility for the maximum 85% council tax support. He was also made an award under Havering’s discretionary scheme that covered his remaining 15% council tax liability.

There was no guarantee that he would receive extra discretionary help in future years and he issued judicial review proceedings challenging Havering’s 2015/2016 scheme.  

However, the High Court rejects that the scheme discriminated on the grounds of disability and age under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Equality Act 2010 -

“… this was a scheme that applied to all people of working age and whose income fell beneath the applicable amount; it was thus overtly neutral with respect to age or disability.

Although retirement age is an age based criterion, it was not Havering's scheme that excluded pensioners from the 100% scheme but the primary legislation. The claimant has not challenged that legislation or complained that Parliament has acted incompatibly with the Convention in failing to also exclude severely disabled people below retirement age who cannot work.

The discretion afforded to billing authorities to promote a scheme reducing council tax support is limited to people of working age. I do not accept that the prohibition on discrimination means that there is an implicit requirement that the billing authority must always exercise its discretion to treat certain classes who are subject to the discretionary scheme, in the same way as those who are statutorily excluded from it.”

In addition, the High Court while recognising that the 2015/2016 scheme had greater impact on disabled people under retirement age than others of a similar age (as they were likely to be unable to access high earnings employment) it rejects that there was indirect discrimination –

“The fact that the scheme impacts on disabled people is expressly taken into account in the various disregards to income made and the premiums awarded in ascertaining the applicable amount. The different situation of the able bodied and disabled with respect to access to the labour market has thus already been acknowledged in calculating the 85% scheme.”

However, with respect to Havering’s discretionary scheme, the High Court does say that -

“… where a severely disabled claimant who is unlikely ever to be able to access the labour market before reaching retirement age, has basic needs that consume all state benefits and has no reasonable way of increasing his/her resources, there is a strong case for the exercise of further discretion to grant 100% council tax support.

A failure to do so may be challenged as irrational or discriminatory, particularly where budgetary expenses relate to disability such as high cost foods or supplements. It is not, however, discretionary to assess need in general and have a discretionary scheme for the particular case.”

The High Court’s full judgment in Mark Logan v the London Borough of Havering [2015] EWHC 3193 (Admin) is available at www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2015/3193.html