Court of Appeal rules that ‘Bedroom Tax’ is unlawful

Date: 27th January 2016
Category: Non-discrimination, Disability, Basic Health and Welfare

On 27th January 2016 the UK Court of Appeal ruled that the 'bedroom tax' was unlawful and discriminatory in two specific cases regarding victims of domestic violence and disabled children.

One appeal, brought by a woman known only as 'A,' concerned the effect of the policy on women living in 'Sanctuary Scheme' homes - properties which are specially adapted because of risks to the lives and physical safety of women and children who live in them.

The second appeal, brought by Paul and Susan Rutherford and their grandson Warren, concerns the impact of the policy on seriously disabled children who need overnight care. In both appeals, the judges accepted that the bedroom tax policy unlawfully discriminates - against women and domestic violence victims, and against seriously disabled children requiring overnight care.

Lord Thomas CJ found that the failure of the Secretary of State to make provision in the regulations for overnight carers of disabled children amounted to unlawful discrimination contrary to Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It was "very difficult to justify the treatment within the same regulation of carers for disabled children and disabled adults, where precisely the opposite result is achieved: provision for the carers of disabled adults but not for the carers of disabled children."

The Secretary of State had also failed to have regard to the best interests of disabled children when devising the regulations. The Court judgement found that the 'bedroom tax' discriminates against disabled children in breach of the Human Rights Act.

The Scottish Government has invested £22.5 million to address the implications of the bedroom tax through discretionary housing payments. This will not fully mitigate the effects of the UK Government's other welfare reductions such as incapacity benefits and Disability Living Allowance which are likely to act as a driver for increased demand for a wide range of public services. There are likely to be corresponding resource implications, as local councils face severe challenges in reducing expenditure on services in line with UK public spending cuts.

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) is urgently looking for case studies following the Court of Appeal's decision in the above cases, which is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court. They are keen to hear about any families with disabled children who have been affected by the housing benefit size criteria (or "the bedroom tax") because they need an extra room for a carer or carers to stay overnight.

A UK human rights blog article sets out what is meant by "bedroom tax", and reprises some of the most recent decisions on challenges to it, in order to set both Court of Appeal judgements in proper context.