10th March, 2013
Ian Duncan-Smith & Lord Freud must have been drowning their sorrows last night, having heard from civil servants that yet another Scottish Tribunal Judge, this time in Glasgow, has set-aside a Bedroom Tax sanction that would otherwise have applied to a severely disabled woman (suffering from Multiple Sclerosis) on the grounds that Glasgow City Council’s decision was incompatible with the appellants rights under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, read with Article 1 of the First Protocol. GLC believes this may be the first reported successful UK challenge on Human Rights grounds against the bedroom tax.
The Council had applied the standard approach of sanctioning the couple because they were perceived to be under-occupying on the basis she was expected to share a specially adapted bedroom with her husband. The imposition of a 14% sanction had placed the couple in arrears of rent with their housing association landlord.
Tribunal Judge Boyd held that:
“In terms of section 3(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998 regulation B13 (5)(a) of the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 can and should be read as follows: “(a) a couple (within the meaning of Part 7 of the Act) (or one member of a couple who cannot share a bedroom because of severe disability).” Not to so read it would be incompatible with the appellant’s rights under Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights read with Article 1 of the First Protocol of the European Convention of Human Rights”……………….Applying regulation B13(5)(a) as so read, the appellant is entitled to two bedrooms. Accordingly there should not be an under occupancy reduction of 14% in her housing benefit entitlement from 1 April 2013.”
Mike Dailly, the appellant’s solicitor, from Glasgow Law Centre explained: “The Tribunal judge distinguished the present case from the recent unsuccessful judgment of the English High Court in MA, and supported the appellant’s position that the English Court of Appeal’s decision in Gorry was in point with the facts and circumstances of the appellant:
“The judgement in MA, at paragraph 88, distinguished the ten cases before the High Court under judicial review procedure from the decision in Gorry on the basis that Gorry related to a discrete group; families with children who could not share a bedroom by reason of their disabilities. This approach was not applied in MA as it was considered that there was no discrete group. As explained above, the Tribunal considers that the appellant is a member of a discrete group very similar to the group considered in Gorry – a person who cannot share a bedroom by reason of her severe disabilities – and as a result Gorry is the case most in point. The judgement in Gorry was made by a higher Court that the judgment in MA. It related to a statutory appeal, as is the case here, rather than a judicial review. It is noted that there will be no appeal against the decision in Gorry but that permission has been granted for an appeal to be made against the decision in MA, and this appeal is being expedited”.
Mr Dailly, said: “We are delighted for our client, and believe that this judgment is very robust as there was no dispute on the facts that the appellant was severely disabled and could not share her specially adapted bedroom with her husband. She did not have a spare or extra bedroom, she required her own bedroom to meet her needs as a severely disabled person. We think this decision – which we understand may be the first reported success in using unlawful discrimination and human rights law to challenge a bedroom tax decision in the UK – will be of great significance to other severely disabled people in similar circumstances to our client”.
You can access the full judgment of Tribunal Judge LD Boyd here (with some personal data redacted to preserve the client’s right of confidentiality).
In a separate but similar case, another First-tier tribunal, this time in Redcar & Cleveland, decided that another severely handicapped woman shouldn’t have to share her bedroom with her husband. http://www.darlingtonandstocktontimes.co.uk/news/10715431.Disabled_woman_wins__bedroom_tax__appeal_against_North_East_council/
I fully expect, in the forthcoming months, there will be many more favourable decisions for tenants, made by First-tier tribunals, and on each occasion the Secretary of State will appeal the decision, on a point of law, to the Upper-tier, anticipating the higher tribunal will support the Government’s position. I’m not so sure they will, especially having examined the Govan decision, and if I’m right, the size criteria, which equally applies to Universal Credit, will be completely undermined.
As if to rub salt in the Government’s already weeping wounds, the Scottish Government has provided Scottish Councils with a further £20M, in this financial year, to prop up the previously under-funded Discretionary Housing Payment budget, only a few months after injecting an additional £9M in the Scottish Welfare Fund.
In Wales Plaid Cymru has vowed to introduce a “no eviction” policy for anyone accruing rent arrears due to the Bedroom Tax . Local Plaid Cymru AM for Ceredigion, Elin Jones, said:
“The bedroom tax is a cruel policy that has been widely discredited. It was criticised by United Nations inspectors as being inhumane, and in areas such as Ceredigion there simply isn’t the supply of smaller properties for tenants to avoid losing benefit for having a ‘spare bedroom’. The National Housing Federation estimates that over 600 people are adversely-affected by the tax in Ceredigion. While we have opposed it on every opportunity in Westminster, Plaid Cymru wants to minimise its impact on local people and so we are committing to a no eviction policy so that no one in Wales is made homeless.