Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Woman wins bedroom tax appeal

A disabled woman has won a legal appeal against the Government's so-called bedroom tax

A disabled woman unable to share a bedroom with her husband has won an appeal against the Government's so-called bedroom tax.

In what is thought to be the first successful case of its kind in England, a tribunal found that the local authority had "not taken into consideration her disabilities and her reasonable requirements".

The tenant, who has chosen to remain anonymous, suffers from various health conditions and this year had a stroke, leaving her in a wheelchair and requiring a stairlift.

Along with her husband, she had argued that due to her condition they required one bedroom each, but this was rejected by Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council who said they were under-occupying their three bedroom house.

But this decision has been overturned and could pave the way for many other similar challenges.

" We took on the Government on the spare room subsidy and won," the woman's husband said.

"Getting a satisfactory outcome to our housing benefit tribunal was quite a surprise to us when you take into account what we read in the media and you see what has happened in the High Court recently.

"The tribunal concluded that although we are a couple, my wife's particular circumstances, the extent and effect of her disabling medical conditions and her resulting needs due to her disabilities, mean that we reasonably require one bedroom each and should therefore be assessed for Housing benefit on this basis."

The couple have now had the subsidy reduced to 14%, down from 25%.

The tribunal, which was held in Middlesbrough, concluded that: "In considering whether there is under-occupation of the appellant's property, the Local Authority have not taken into consideration her disabilities and her reasonable requirements, as a result of these, to sleep in a bedroom of her own."

Iain Sim, chief executive of Coast & Country, which owns the property, said they had been campaigning against the subsidy on behalf of their tenants.

"The Bedroom Tax is abhorrent because it is affecting some of the poorest people in society, who through no fault of their own are living in homes that are classed as too big for them," he said.

"To hear that one couple has taken on the establishment and won is fantastic news, which should give hope to hundreds of thousands of disabled people right across the country."

In a statement, the Department for Work and Pensions denied the case had set a precedent but said it would look at the decision in detail.

A spokesman said: " Tribunal decisions at this level do not set a precedent. We will need to look at this particular decision in detail, but in July the Divisional Court ruled that the department had fulfilled its equality duties to disabled people who are affected by the policy.

"We are giving local authorities £190 million extra funding this year so vulnerable claimants get the help they need during the welfare reforms, with £25 million specifically aimed to help disabled people who live in specially adapted accommodation.

"Even after the reform we still pay over 80% of most claimants' housing benefit, but the taxpayer can no longer pay for spare bedrooms in the social housing sector."

But disability charity Scope said this ruling once again showed that these bedrooms are essential and urged the Government to reconsider its approach to welfare.

A spokesman said: " This could be a really important ruling, coming on the back of similar cases in Glasgow and London. Once again it shows these are not spare bedrooms, these are essential rooms.

"The majority of people affected by the so-called 'bedroom tax' are disabled. Many people need a room for specialist equipment, or so that their severely disabled child can sleep separately from their siblings.

"It's likely that many families have similar living arrangements to those in this case. For instance we've spoken to disabled people who simply aren't able to share a specially adapted bed with their partner.

"We urgently need the Government to reconsider its approach to welfare."

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