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Government loses bedroom tax case over treatment of children

27 January 2016

The Court of Appeal held that it was ‘very difficult to justify’ treating children worse than adults under the ‘bedroom tax’ rules

This was one of two cases brought before the Court of Appeal, the other concerning a domestic violence issue (panic rooms). This case concerns ‘bedroom tax’ restrictions for social tenants and whether they discriminate unlawfully against disabled children who need overnight care.

Paul and Susan Rutherford’s teenage grandson Warren requires 24-hour care by at least two people at all times. His grandparents, who are both disabled themselves, struggle to look after him alone and need the help of two paid carers who can stay overnight at least twice a week.

The family live in a 3-bedroom bungalow that has been specially adapted to meet Warren’s needs. Paul and Susan share one room, Warren sleeps in another and the third room is needed for the carers to stay overnight and to store Warren’s equipment. Without the help of overnight carer workers Warren would have to be put into residential care, at substantial extra cost to his local authority.

There is currently an exemption to the bedroom tax in cases where an adult disabled person needs an overnight carer, but not when it is a disabled child. As a result of this the family have been deemed to be “under-occupying” and their housing benefit has been reduced.

The Court of Appeal decision

The Court of Appeal held that it was ‘very difficult to justify’ treating children worse than adults (adults can get an extra room for an overnight carer), especially as the Secretary of State has argued that other aspects of the bedroom tax are designed to give children especially advantageous treatment.

The Court of Appeal consequently accepted that the discriminatory treatment was manifestly without reasonable foundation. For more information see Garden Court North Chambers statement

See also CPAG press release

Philip Connolly on BBC News 24

Philip Connolly, Policy and Development Officer, speaking on BBC News 24 (item appears around 11.31 am) said Disability Rights UK are delighted for both the family and the others affected by this decision. We hope that the Government decides not to appeal the decision. Disabled children, who need overnight care, should not be driven into poverty or be forced to rely on the insecurity of 'discretionary' housing payments because of the bedroom tax. Approximately 70% of families affected by the bedroom tax have a disabled child.

Ken Butler, Disability Rights UK Welfare Rights Officer said:

“This is a very significant judgment as the Court ruled that the existence of discretionary housing payments does not justify or mitigate against bedroom tax legislation that discriminates against disabled people.

What disabled people need is the assurance of having their entitlement to housing benefit enshrined in law and not to have the worry and stress of repeated applications for discretionary help that could be refused without the right to independent appeal.”

Disability Rights UK will be writing to the Secretary of State asking him to accept the Court of Appeal’s ruling and respect families, like Warren’s, right to support, support that is respectful of family life and is cheaper than the alternative of relocating Warren to a residential setting. We will ask the Government to bring forward, instead, regulations that will create a new exemption to this discriminatory tax.

View Court of Appeal judgement - Rutherford & Ors, R (On the Application Of) v Secretary of State for Work & Pensions

Appeal to the Supreme Court

An appeal against these decisions will be heard at the Supreme Court from Monday 29 February - Wednesday 2 March 2016.