The so-called ‘bedroom tax’ unlawfully discriminates against vulnerable victims of domestic violence, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled.
The case of J.D. and A v. the United Kingdom (applications nos. 32949/17 and 34614/17) concerned the applicants’ complaint that rules on housing benefit in the social housing sector discriminated against them because of their particular situations: the first applicant cared for a disabled daughter while the second was a victim of domestic violence. Both live in specially adapted homes.
The Court held that the applicants were particularly prejudiced by the measure, which leads to a reduction in rental subsidy if occupants have more bedrooms than they are entitled to under the legislation, with the aim of incentivising them to move house.
It concluded that Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs), which can make up shortfalls in rent, allowed it to find that the difference in treatment in the first applicant’s case was justified.
However, that was not the case for the second applicant, who lives with her son in a three-bedroom property which has been specially adapted for them by the police.
The ECHR said she was part of another scheme (a Sanctuary Scheme) whose aim was to allow victims of domestic violence to remain in their homes and the DHPs could not resolve the conflict between that aim and the aim of the bedroom tax, which was to incentivise her to move.
A's legal team - comprising Karon Monaghan QC of Matrix Chambers, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Katie O’Byrne of Doughty Street Chambers (instructed by Rebekah Carrier and Ann Bevington of Hopkin Murray Beskine) - said the ECHR had clarified the legal test applicable to discrimination claims in social security cases.
Ann Bevington said: “These changes to housing benefit have had a catastrophic impact upon vulnerable people across the country. Our client, whose life is at risk, has suffered great anxiety as a result of the bedroom tax and the uncertainty about this case.....She is delighted that after such a long battle, the European Court of Human Rights has recognised the impact that the bedroom tax is having on her and others like her.
“An investment has been made in keeping these vulnerable women safe and to move families in these circumstances out of their homes is a false economy as it will cost further money to provide security as the new property, and this may provide a reduced level of safety, putting them at risk. It is important to remember that on average two women every week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales – protecting abused women and their children is a matter of life and death, and we should always remember this.
“We now call on the Secretary of State to take swift action in response to this ruling, and to change the rules to exempt from the bedroom tax the small but extremely vulnerable class of women and children who need the safety of a sanctuary scheme whilst they try to rebuild their lives after surviving domestic violence.”
The Supreme Court by a 5-2 majority had in November 2016 found for the Secretary of State, allowing his appeal and dismissed A’s cross appeal over the rejection of her Equality Act claim.
Lord Toulson said: “….For as long as A, and others in a similar situation, are in need of the protection of sanctuary scheme housing, they must of course receive it; but that does not require the court to hold that A has a valid claim against the Secretary of State for unlawful sex discrimination.”