The Supreme Court has ruled that the Spare Room Subsidy – or ‘bedroom tax’ – discriminated against a woman with Spina Bifida and a couple who care for their severely disabled grandson.
Paul and Susan Rutherford care for their profoundly disabled 14-year-old grandson and live in a specially adapted home, which has a room for a care worker to stay when providing overnight care. This had been deemed as a spare bedroom and, as a result, their housing benefit had been reduced. This is despite there being an exemption for disabled adults in the same situation.
In January, the Court of Appeal judges accepted that the bedroom tax unlawfully discriminated against disabled children requiring overnight care. The government appealed against this judgement, but this appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court also ruled in favour of Jacqueline and Jayson Carmichael, who are unable to share a bedroom due to Jacqueline’s severe disability. The Court ruled that adult partners who cannot share a bedroom due to disability should be treated no differently from disabled children who cannot share a room, for whom there is currently an exemption in place.
However, the judges threw out challenges from 5 others, who have all said they will challenge the decision.
The bedroom tax was brought in in 2013 by the previous coalition government. Social housing tenants who were judged to have a ‘spare’ bedroom – thought additional to the needs of people living there - had their housing benefits payments cut by 14%, or more if they had more than one additional bedroom. However, disability campaigners have consistently protested against this, saying that ‘extra’ bedrooms are not spare but essential for people with disabilities and those caring for them.
In the Court’s judgement, Lord Toulson said the judges unanimously agreed that the claim that the scheme discriminated against disabled people was "too broad".
He added that: "There is a line to be drawn between on the one hand those who have a medical need for an additional bedroom and on the other hand, those who do not have a direct medical need for an additional room but may have powerful reasons for staying where they are, because of their particular personal circumstances."
Speaking outside the court, Paul Rutherford said: "It's probably the best day we've had in the last three and a half years and we're just really glad that it's all over.
"Glad that we've won for everybody else who's in our situation, because there's quite a few out there who are.”
Heléna Herklots, chief executive of Carers UK, welcomed the judgement. “Today is a victory for these two families who have fought a long and determined battle that also has hugely important implications for many more disabled children and adults and for their families,” she said.
“The Government must now act to amend the regulations to stop the devastating impact on families like the Carmichaels and the Rutherfords but should go further.
“Thousands of other carers in different circumstances are having to pay the Bedroom Tax or living with the fear that their Discretionary Housing Payment won’t be renewed. Families are providing essential care and support to those with disabilities and need the space to do so. Carers UK calls on the Government to go further than implementing the judgment and exempt all carers from the Bedroom Tax.”
The judgement was also welcomed by learning disability charity Mencap. Beatrice Barleon, policy manager at Mencap, said: “This Supreme Court ruling serves further warning that the removal of the spare room subsidy, also known as the “Bedroom Tax”, fails to take into account the specific needs of disabled people.
“The Bedroom Tax continues to damage the quality of life of many people with a learning disability; jeopardising the health and safety of those who have additional physical and health needs and need extra rooms for additional equipment or support workers.
“Disabled people have been hit by waves of damaging cuts to their social care and benefit payments in recent years. These are limiting access to the support disabled people rely on to maintain their health and access their community, as highlighted by yesterday’s UN report into violations of disabled people’s rights by UK government policies.
“The Government must now respond to this ruling and accept the policy discriminates against disabled people, many of whom stand to lose further support when cuts to Employment and Support Allowance are introduced in April 2017.”
Meanwhile the Green Party went further, and called for the scrapping of the tax. The Party’s justice spokesperson, Charley Pattison, said: “This judgement sends a clear message to the government that respect for people’s rights overrides punitive austerity measures imposed on the most vulnerable members of society.
"The Green Party has long campaigned to get rid of this discriminatory tax, which has been particularly damaging for the poor and disabled. The government must now completely scrap the bedroom tax.”