Disabled families await housing benefits cuts ruling

Houses The changes to housing benefits regulations came into force in April

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The High Court is to rule on whether cuts to housing benefit for social housing residents with spare bedrooms discriminates against disabled people.

Lawyers for 10 families brought a judicial review over the lower payments for people in homes deemed too large.

They say the change - called a bedroom tax by critics - breaches their clients' human rights because they need the extra space for health reasons.

Ministers say it helps control welfare costs and frees up social housing.

About 660,000 working-age social housing households judged to have too many bedrooms have lost an average of £14 per week since their benefit was cut at the beginning of April.

The Department for Work and Pensions estimated that 420,000 disabled people would be among those affected.

The families, all disabled or the parents of disabled children, challenged the changes during a three-day hearing in May.

Who are the claimants?

There are 10 claimants represented by three law firms. They are from various places including London, Stoke-on-Trent, Manchester and Birmingham. Here are the arguments of four of them:

Case one

Lawyers for one London family say they live in a damp, one-bedroom flat infested with mice. One son has autism, the other has Down's Syndrome.

The child with autism sleeps in the bedroom while his mother, father and brother sleep on the floor in the living room.

Due to the changes, they say they cannot afford to move to the larger property authorities say they need.

Case two

Charlotte Carmichael has spina bifida and sleeps in a hospital bed which, she argues, her husband and full-time carer cannot share.

He sleeps in their spare room as there is not enough space in hers for a second bed.

Case three

In 2011, six-year-old Isaac was assaulted by the then partner of his mother, leaving him traumatised. He and his mother were made homeless and assessed as needing three bedrooms because, solicitors say, of Isaac's behavioural and mental issues.

His mother lost £15.52 a week on 1 April when the council judged they were under-occupying.

Case four

A wheelchair user living in a three-bedroom bungalow shared with his stepdaughter who has a rare form of muscular dystrophy says he needs a third bedroom to store equipment including a hoist for lifting him.

He contends there are no suitable two bedroom homes in the social sector.

The claimants are represented by three law firms and are from various places including London, Stoke-on-Trent, Manchester and Birmingham.

Their lawyers argued the benefit cut violated the Human Rights Act and Equality Act.

Ugo Hayter from Leigh Day, which is representing two of the claimants said the legislation was "unfair" and had "disproportionate negative consequences on disabled people and is therefore discriminatory".

The lawyers also said the £25m the government has made available to councils to make discretionary payments to help disabled people affected by the benefit cuts is insufficient.

There has been fierce political argument about the new housing benefit rules, which supporters of the change say withdraws a "spare room subsidy".

The government says the benefit changes were intended to reduce a £21bn annual housing benefit bill and encourage greater mobility in the social rented sector.

The Department of Work and Pensions said it was confident the measures were lawful and do not discriminate against disabled claimants or those with shared care of children.

At the time of the High Court case, a DWP spokesman said it was "only right" to bring back fairness to the system and pointed out there were "two million households on the social housing waiting list and over a quarter of a million tenants... living in overcrowded homes".

The DWP added that an extra £150m in total has been made available to councils' funding for vulnerable claimants.

However, the National Housing Federation said earlier this month that the consequences of the change were worse than feared.

Rent arrears have soared in some areas while larger houses are lying empty as people refuse to move into them, it claimed.

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