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Legal challenges to benefits cap and bedroom tax

Welfare reform is coming under further scrutiny with permission granted for a new Judicial Review on the bedroom tax and an anticipated Supreme Court decision on whether the benefit cap unjustifiably discriminates against lone parents and victims of domestic abuse.

Benefit cap case in the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court sat last week to hear an appeal against the benefit cap.  The appeal was brought by two single mothers, both of whom were victims of domestic violence.  They both live in outer London where the cost of temporary accommodation is much higher than in Northern Ireland.  It is these housing costs which have pushed them beyond the benefit cap of £500 per week.

The women argued that

  • the implementation of the benefit cap discriminates against them as female victims of domestic violence,
  • that the cap is irrational under common law and
  • that the cap breaches their right to family life.

The appeal has been supported by Shelter, Women’s Aid and the Child Poverty Action Group who provided expert evidence and arguments to assist the court in considering how this cap affects vulnerable families. As yet, no decision has been issued.

New Judicial Review of Bedroom Tax

Meanwhile, Liberty the civil liberties campaigning organisation, has been granted permission for a Judicial Review against the bedroom tax.  The case is being taken on behalf of single parents who share custody of a child.  

Liberty believes that the bedroom tax breaches the European Convention on Human Rights, which says people have a right to a private and family life.

A First Tier Tribunal decision on a similar case in Liverpool held that a father who had shared custody of his daughter should not be subject to the bedroom tax.  In that judgment, the Tribunal felt that the bedroom in her father’s home could not be regarded as somewhere that the daughter lived “transiently or temporarily” and that regarding both properties as a home for the child was crucial to her well-being.

While this FTT decision lends hope to parents in similar circumstances, advisers should also be aware of an Upper Tribunal Decision from December 2013 on the policy of linking receipt of child benefit to a child’s residency status when determining eligible housing costs.  This decision held that this policy was discriminatory but that this discrimination was justified.

Learning more about legal challenges to bedroom tax

To date, the Bedroom Tax has been subject to legal challenges on a variety of grounds.  You can find out more about these legal challenges and how we anticipate these affecting the policy’s implementation in Northern Ireland by attending our upcoming seminar “The Bedroom Tax in Northern Ireland”.

We’ll be running this seminar in Belfast, Cookstown and Derry/Londonderry. These seminars sold out quickly last time we ran them, so book early to avoid disappointment.     

Tagged In

Welfare Reform, Legal

This article was written on 6 May 2014. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.