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Judge upholds Glasgow woman's housing benefit challenge

October 2, 2013 9:35 AM
Originally published by LDDA - The Liberal Democrat Disability Association

A disabled woman from Glasgow has won a ruling that changes to housing benefit breached her human rights. The woman and her husband had the benefit for their two bedroom home cut by 14% under new under-occupancy rules. A tribunal has now ruled both "require a bedroom each" and that their flat is "fully occupied" and the decision to cut benefit breached her human rights.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said the ruling does not set a precedent. The ruling is thought to be the first of its kind against the new benefit changes.

The case was heard at a First Tier Tribunal (Social Entitlement Chamber) before judge Lyndy Boyd.

It was brought on behalf of the unnamed woman, who suffers from primary progressive multiple sclerosis, by Mike Dailly, principal solicitor of Govan Law Centre. The tribunal heard that the woman and her husband live in a two bedroom home and had incurred arrears with their housing association after changes to housing benefit came into effect.

Since April, social tenants deemed to have too many rooms have had benefit payments cut. Critics call it a "bedroom tax" but the UK government says it is ending a "spare room subsidy".

Tribunal judge Lyndy Boyd said the woman's case must be viewed within the context of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006. She held these allowed circumstances to be recognised when one member of a couple cannot share a bedroom because of severe disability.

The judge said: "Not to so read it would be incompatible with the appellant's rights under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights read with Article 1 of the First Protocol of the European Convention of Human Rights." Judge Boyd continued: "The appellant's flat is not larger than she needs. She does not have a spare or extra bedroom. Because of her severe disability she is not able to share a bedroom with her husband and he must have a bedroom of his own. Her flat is not under-occupied. As a result of her sever disability she and her husband require a bedroom each and the flat is fully occupied."

In her statement of reasons, judge Boyd added that the interpretation of the rules in this case "does not change the fundamental features of the legislation or disrupt its aims". Mr Dailly said he understand that the case may be the "first reported success in using unlawful discrimination and human rights law to challenge" the changes to housing benefit.

A DWP spokesman said: "Tribunal decisions at this level do not set a precedent. We will need to look at this particular decision in detail, but in July the Divisional Court ruled that the Department had fulfilled its equality duties to disabled people who are affected by the policy."

He added: "Even after the reform we still pay over 80% of most claimants' housing benefit, but the taxpayer can no longer pay for spare bedrooms in the social housing sector."