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Tuesday, 15 May 2012

A charity is hailing a 'tremendous victory' for the rights of disabled people and their children after the Court of Appeal (CoA) today ruled that the size criteria in the housing benefit regulations discriminate against disabled people.

The CoA said the regs were discriminatory, because they do not allow for an additional room to be paid for where a disabled person has a carer, or where two children cannot share a room because of disability.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Henderson said: “I am satisfied that maintenance of the single bedroom rules is not a fair or proportionate response to the discrimination which has been established in cases of the present type, and that the defence of justification therefore fails.”

The court ruled on three separate cases - considered together - in the private rented sector. That of Ian Burnip who has carers 24 hours a day to help him as he is severely disabled. He only got housing benefit for a one bedroom flat, as that was all he was entitled to at the time, but needed a second bedroom for his carers to sleep in overnight.

The other cases involved Lucy Trengrove, who has since passed away, but was in a similar situation to Mr Burnip, and Richard Gorry who has two disabled daughters who cannot share a room because of the nature of their disabilities. The family could only claim for a three bedroom home, so the two disabled children would have to share a bedroom. Their disabilities, he argued, made this impossible.

The claimants brought the case against the councils who administered their benefits and against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), because their housing benefit did not cover their housing needs, and they were left to find the shortfall from their disability benefits.

They argued that the rules discriminated against them because they were treated worse than claimants who are not disabled, whose housing needs are met through the benefit system.

Alison Garnham, the Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, which represented Richard Gorry, said:“We welcome the fact that the court has recognised the unfairness of the housing benefit rules. This is a tremendous victory for the rights of disabled people and their children.

“In this case it was clearly not possible for two children, one with Spina Bifida and another with Down Syndrome, to share a single bedroom with such different demands and needs. It’s absolutely right that the housing benefit system should respond to challenges like this, and it is clear discrimination if it does not.

“Disabled people and their families and carers are being assaulted by a series of unjust and arbitrary cuts. This ruling goes some way to mitigating the effects of the cuts, but children and adults are still being made the unfair target of the Coalition’s austerity agenda.”

Since the case began, the Government has amended the rules to cover the circumstances of Ian Burnip and Lucy Trengrove - who has since passed away. The housing benefit regulations now recognise that some people need an additional room for an overnight carer who lives elsewhere. Those changes came into effect in April 2011. The rules, however, do not cover the situation of Richard Gorry.

In light of this, the Equality and Human Rights Commission - who was also involved in the case - says the Government will now have to amend the regulations for families with disabled children.

A DWP spokesperson said: “The Government will carefully consider its response to the Court of Appeal judgment handed down today.”

The case could potentially have ramifications for the size criteria the Government wants to introduce in the social housing sector, which will mirror Local Housing Allowance rules.

Under current plans around 670,000 social tenants - two-thirds containing a disabled family member - face losing an average of £13 per week because they are deemed to have one or more additional bedrooms.

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