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Court of Appeal rules in two cases on welfare reforms

Court of Appeal finds that Government has complied with the equality duties and not discriminated against disabled tenants subject to the bedroom…

Court of Appeal finds that Government has complied with the equality duties and not discriminated against disabled tenants subject to the bedroom tax.

In the case of R(MA) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2014] EWCA Civ 13 in which the Court of Appeal gave judgment on 21 February 2014, it was held that the Government was justified in discriminating against disabled housing benefit claimants by deducting their benefits (the bedroom tax). The Court of Appeal held that the Government had complied with its equality duties pursuant to The Equality Act 2010 and had not breached Article 14 of Schedule 1 to The Human Rights Act 1998.

The facts

Several claimants joined together and sought a judicial review of the housing benefit regulations which deduct a percentage of housing benefit awards if one or more bedrooms are under occupied, more commonly known as the bedroom tax. The basis of the challenge was that the introduction of the scheme arose from a failure to undertake the public sector equality duty in The Equality Act 2010 Section 149 and had resulted in unlawful discrimination contrary to Article 14 of Schedule 1 to The Human Rights Act 1998. In the High Court the claim was dismissed and the claimants applied to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal has now also dismissed the appeals.

All of the claimants were disabled people, presenting a variety of different facts. Some needed a spare room because they were unable to share the main bedroom with their partner due to their disability or needed the spare room to store essential equipment relating to their disability.

In the 38 page judgment dismissing the appeal, the main thrust appears to be that discretionary housing payments are available to disabled tenants.

This is no doubt a controversial decision and the tenants have suggested that they may apply for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. Therefore, this is far from the end of the story. Further updates will be provided should the matter proceed to a further appeal.

Tenants unsuccessful in challenge to the Benefits Cap

A further judgment handed down on the same day in R(SG) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2014] EWCA Civ 156 involved two mothers of young children, each a single parent family. They had fled violent marriages and lived in private rented accommodation because they were unable to get council housing. They contended that because of the particular circumstances they would suffer physical circumstances as a result of a cap and other lone parents would be similarly affected.

The tenants objected to the benefits cap and stated that it unlawfully discriminated against (a) women generally or (b) women who are victims of domestic violence in breach of Article 14 or alternatively, infringe Article 8.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the claim. The Master of the Rolls said, "We recognise that the cap is controversial statutory measure which will cause hardship to some (possibly many) people who are on benefits. It was well understood by parliament and the government that this would be the case. The legislation was carefully calibrated to produce a scheme which was judged by both of them to strike a fair balance between all members of society, in particular between those who are in work and those who are not".

Again, the tenants are considering an appeal to the Supreme Court.

For local authorities, this means that the rules, as drafted, must continue to be applied even if this discriminates against a person. For private registered providers, it is recommended to advise your tenants to apply for DHP as a matter of urgency otherwise they will face deductions from their benefits that they will have to find themselves.

Jane Plant is an Associate based in our Birmingham office. If you would like more information on this subject please contact jane.plant@weightmans.com.