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Family defeated on 'bedroom tax'

The grandparents of a severely disabled teenager have lost their legal challenge against the so-called "bedroom tax".

Paul and Susan Rutherford, from Clunderwen, Pembrokeshire, although disabled themselves, are full-time carers to 13-year-old Warren, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder which means he is unable to walk or talk, cannot feed himself and is doubly incontinent.

The case concerned regulations, introduced in April last year, which have led to reductions in housing benefit payments to tenants in social housing assessed through controversial "size criteria" to be under-occupying their accommodation.

They allow for an additional bedroom if the claimant or their partner require overnight care but there is no provision for children who need an overnight carer.

Today, Mr Justice Stuart-Smith, at London's High Court, rejected their challenge to the lawfulness of the regulations and dismissed the application for judicial review.

The family live in a three-bedroom bungalow, adapted for Warren's needs, with the Rutherfords in one room, Warren in another, and the third needed for carers staying overnight and to store equipment.

Solicitor Michael Spencer, for the Child Poverty Action Group, which acted for the couple, has said: "Paul and Sue Rutherford work round the clock to care for their severely disabled grandson.

"Without carers who can stay overnight, they just wouldn't be able to cope and Warren would have to go into care, at substantial cost to the taxpayer.

"It simply doesn't make sense that the law allows an extra bedroom for adults who need overnight care, but not for disabled children."

Since the case was launched, Pembrokeshire County Council has given the family a discretionary payment to cover the cut in housing benefit but the Rutherfords wanted a change in the law as this is only temporary.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "We are pleased that the courts have once again found in our favour and agreed our policy is lawful.

"We have made £345 million available to councils since the reforms were introduced to help vulnerable families who may need extra support.

"The removal of the spare room subsidy is a fair and necessary reform. It will give families in overcrowded accommodation hope of finding an appropriately sized property and help bring the housing benefit bill under control."

In his ruling, the judge said the current discretionary housing payment covered the rental shortfall until April 2015 and, assuming that the scheme remained, there was no evidence to suggest that Pembrokeshire would refuse to make up the shortfall by further payments in the future.

He said the Rutherfords were not financially disadvantaged by the intended and actual operation of the scheme and none of the detriments that had been suggested showed a serious flaw which produced an "unreasonable discriminatory effect".

It was common ground that the case was to be decided on its facts and evidence relevant to the Rutherfords' claim. It had not been presented as a "test" case and the evidence for such a case was lacking.

"Throughout the writing of this judgment I have kept at the forefront of my mind that Warren is grievously disabled and that his grandparents have undertaken a heavy responsibility and burden," said the judge.

"The need to make an application for a discretionary housing payment is an additional burden."

But,he added, it was not substantial in an overall scheme of things which included the policy objectives of the scheme, the circumstances in which it was introduced - to meet a compelling social and political objective at a time of extreme national financial austerity - and the fact that the Rutherfords had suffered no financial detriment and should not suffer any in the future.

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