Council chief attacks bedroom tax ruling

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The leader of Leeds Council today attacked a High Court ruling that the Government’s so-called Bedroom Tax does not discriminate against disabled people.

The High Court ruled that the tax did not unlawfully discriminate against disabled people in social housing.

Coun Keith Wakefield

Coun Keith Wakefield

New housing benefit regulations, introduced on April 1, led to reductions in benefit payments to tenants assessed to be under-occupying their accommodation.

Under new “size criteria”, tenants with one spare bedroom have seen their benefit payments reduced by 14 per cent for one spare bedroom.

Councillor Keith Wakefield, leader of the council, said families were being punished under the policy.

He said: “The Government’s defence of its flawed bedroom tax policy in the High Court shows its uncaring attitude towards disabled people living in social housing on very low incomes.

“This policy particularly punishes families with vulnerable or disabled children. That is why I have such sympathy for those who have lost their case in court.

“I hope ministers will recognise just what an impact policies are having on families whose children cannot share a room because of their disabilities.

“These are families where, contrary to Government rules, children cannot share a room – that may be because a child is at risk of violence from a sibling, or because a child is suffering trauma as a result of domestic violence or abuse.”

Coun Wakefield added: “In Leeds, we are trying to do all we can to help vulnerable people despite cuts to our own budgets.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman added: “Reform of housing benefit in the social sector is essential, so the taxpayer does not pay for people’s extra bedrooms.”

Campaigners welcomed court criticism that the Government has been aware since May last year that the law must be changed to provide for disabled children but failed to act early to make the necessary regulations.

Lord Justice Laws, sitting with Mr Justice Cranston, said the current state of affairs “cannot be allowed to continue”.

Lawyers acting for disabled people said the ruling meant that the Government must now act “very speedily” to show there should be “no reduction of housing benefit where an extra bedroom is required for children who are unable to share because of their disabilities”.

The legal teams said they would fight on after losing the main aim of their challenge - to block the controversial housing benefit regulations that came into force on April 1.

The new regulations involve reductions in benefit payments to tenants assessed to be under-occupying their accommodation.

Under new ‘’size criteria’’, tenants with one spare bedroom have had a payment reduction of 14% and those deemed to have two or more spare, a reduction of 25%.

Human rights lawyers say that, unless the families move from their homes into smaller properties, they face building up rent arrears and being forced out anyway.

Ten cases were brought before London’s High Court to illustrate the serious impact of the regulations on disabled people up and down the country.

Rebekah Carrier, solicitor with law firm Hopkin Murray Beskine, condemned the Government for causing confusion over its new regulations.

Ms Carrier said: “The Government’s position in relation to disabled children is incomprehensible. Fourteen months ago (in May 2012) the Court of Appeal held that the secretary of state was discriminating against disabled children who need to share a bedroom because of their disabilities, yet by February 2013 when these proceedings were issued no action had been taken.”

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