Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Bedroom tax judgement will cause more hardship

Dan Parton cutSo, the spare room subsidy – better known as the bedroom tax – does not unlawfully discriminate against people with disabilities, according to a High Court ruling. But, as Dan Parton explains, that doesn’t make things any better for those affected:

The claimants in the case – 10 families of people with disabilities, some of those with learning disabilities – had argued that the new housing benefit rules discriminate against people with disabilities when they cannot share a bedroom, or need extra rooms for equipment or support related to their disability.

Briefly, while the High Court recognised that the bedroom tax would discriminate against some disabled people, it accepted the Department for Work and Pension’s (DWP) argument that it had recognised this and provided mitigation, in the form of £25 million in Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP). The Judge also accepted that DWP had considered the needs of disabled people and had not breached the public sector equality duty.

Some parts of the judgement make little sense to me. For instance, it was ruled unlawful to force child siblings to share a bedroom when one has disabilities that mean that the other will be disturbed. But for adults – i.e. couples – in the same situation, forced sharing is not deemed unlawful.

Could someone explain to me how one is unjustified and the other isn’t? I can’t work that one out.

Also, the DHP was deemed sufficient mitigation against any discrimination. However, having spoken to charities that work with people with learning disabilities, they say the DHP provides little more than a drop in the ocean, compared to the real level of need.

Firstly, it is discretionary – meaning that people who apply for it don’t automatically get it. Secondly, it is finite. It was worth £25 million until the DWP pumped another £30 million into it this week. This cash injection was announced on the same morning as the High Court verdict, which was, according to the DWP, entirely coincidental.

Nevertheless, when the total sum is split among all the councils in England, Wales and Scotland, and then further split among claimants, it doesn’t go very far. According to housing charity Shelter, the original fund was sufficient to support 35,000 households a year, just 5% of those affected. So even with the injection, it is still not enough.

This ruling will make a tough situation tougher for many people with learning disabilities. The bedroom tax may only have been in place for four months, but it is already causing real problems. For instance, disability and carers charities are reporting a spike in calls about housing issues – people struggling to pay rent, threatened with eviction, finding it difficult to find alternative accommodation – since the bedroom tax was introduced on April 1.

And it can’t be stated strongly enough that the people affected are not scroungers, or feckless, or any of the other adjectives that are often thrown their way. In the main, these are people living on disability/carers benefits or in low-paid or part-time work.

They will generally have a fixed income with little scope to absorb a financial hit of £14 per week – the cost of being seen to have an extra bedroom – or to earn more to mitigate it.

Inevitably, the families involved in the case are going to the Court of Appeal, so the ruling could yet be overturned.

Those affected, as well as those involved in supporting them, will continue to watch the legal process with interest – and hope. But as it drags on, so will their struggles to find the additional money to cover the cut in their benefit and for some in the meantime that will lead to real hardship.

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