Ten vulnerable and disabled children – including 4 with learning disabilities – have launched a High Court action against the Government’s so-called ‘bedroom tax’, claiming that it will have devastating consequences for them.
New regulations, due to come into force on April 1, will mean that housing benefit will only be payable on the basis that children under 16 of the same gender share a room, and children under 10 will share a room regardless of gender. All 10 of the children in these claims fall into one of these categories and are expected to share a bedroom with their siblings.
However, all of them have been assessed as needing their own bedrooms – either due to their disabilities, because they are at risk of violence from a sibling, or because of the trauma they have experienced as a result of abuse and domestic violence. They claim that the new regulations have failed to take proper account of the needs of vulnerable children and are discriminatory.
The 10 children include one with Down’s syndrome, three with autism, and one with the rare and severe genetic condition, Joubert’s syndrome. Four of the children have been settled in their current accommodation having fled serious domestic violence and abuse.
Rebekah Carrier, the solicitor acting for the claimant children and their parents, said: “These changes will have a catastrophic impact on our clients and many thousands more vulnerable children and adults. Experts have assessed my clients as being unable to share a room with their siblings. A year ago the Children’s Commissioner [Dr Maggie Atkinson] warned the Government that these changes would have a disproportionate and devastating impact on families with disabled children and those fleeing domestic violence. The appalling situation my clients now find themselves in was entirely predictable and avoidable.
“The Government is advising these families to consider taking in a lodger to make up the financial shortfall, but this is a ludicrous suggestion. None of these families have a spare room available because the rooms are already being used. It is also very surprising that the Government is advising families with disabled children, and children suffering trauma following serious abuse, to invite a stranger into their home.”
Sally Causer, director of the Southwark Legal Advice Network which provides advice across the borough, added: “In recent weeks we have been overwhelmed by enquiries from families worried about how they are going to pay their rent after April. Last month we held an information event jointly with Southwark Council. Attendance was astonishing with queues out of the door and standing room only at times. We had to draft in extra advisers to cope with the demand.
“Tenants were concerned about getting into debt and the risk of eviction and homelessness. We are particularly concerned about vulnerable families like these claimants for whom these new rules leave no realistic option.
“Ironically, changes to the legal aid system come into force at the same time [meaning] legal aid will no longer be available for welfare benefits cases. We know that there is going to be a huge unmet need for advice, and little we can do about it. I also know that Southwark council are desperately concerned that the sums allocated by central Government to address the problems caused by the “bedroom tax” are likely to prove woefully inadequate.”
These claims are supported by the charities the National Autistic Society and Contact a Family. Both charities have submitted witness evidence in support of the claims.