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Spina bifida sufferer celebrates Supreme Court ruling over 'bedroom tax'

Published 09/11/2016

Paul Rutherford and his disabled grandson, Warren, are among those awaiting the outcome of the latest court hearing into the ''bedroom tax'
Paul Rutherford and his disabled grandson, Warren, are among those awaiting the outcome of the latest court hearing into the ''bedroom tax'

A spina bifida sufferer and the family of a teenager with severe disabilities are celebrating after successes at the UK's highest court over the so-called "bedroom tax".

Jacqueline Carmichael, 44, who lives with her husband Jayson, 54, in a two-bedroom housing association flat in Southport, Merseyside, won a Supreme Court ruling that a controversial housing benefit cap, which came into effect in 2013, was discriminatory in her case.

Sue and Paul Rutherford, from Pembrokeshire, who care for her grandson Warren, spoke of their relief after seven justices dismissed a Government appeal against an earlier legal ruling in their favour.

The justices gave decisions in seven cases arising out of two previous Court of Appeal rulings over changes in housing benefit regulations, which campaigners say have had a "devastating" impact.

In 2014, appeal judges dismissed Mrs Carmichael's case, along with those brought by four other individuals, who are either disabled or carers, and who complained that the changes unlawfully discriminate against people with disabilities who have a need for an additional bedroom because of that disability.

On Wednesday the justices dismissed the claims of all but Mrs Carmichael that they had suffered "unlawful disability discrimination".

The Supreme Court's decision in the Rutherford case arose out of a Court of Appeal ruling in January when judges declared that they, and a victim of domestic violence, had "suffered discrimination".

While dismissing the Government's challenge in the Rutherford action, the justices allowed it - by a majority of five to two - against the Court of Appeal's judgment in the case of single mother "A", who lives in a council house fitted with a secure panic room to protect her from a violent ex-partner.

The appeals all concerned the impact of a cap on housing benefit in cases of "deemed under-occupation of social sector housing".

The Supreme Court said the merits of the "bedroom tax", or "removal of the spare room subsidy", was not a matter for the court, "nor is there any challenge to the legality of the cap as it applies in general".

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman said later that steps would be taken to comply with the ruling.

He said: "It is welcome that the court found in our favour in five out of the seven cases. The court also agreed with our view that discretionary housing payments are generally an appropriate and lawful way to provide assistance to those who need extra help.

"In the two specific cases where the court did not find in our favour, we will take steps to ensure we comply with the judgment in due course.

"In most cases, local authorities are best placed to understand the needs of their residents, which is why we will have given them over £1 billion by the end of this parliament for discretionary housing payments to ensure that people in difficult situations don't lose out."

Rosa Curling from the human rights team at law firm Leigh Day, who acted for Mrs Carmichael, said: "We are extremely pleased that the Supreme Court has ruled in our client's favour. They must now be provided with a housing benefit that meets their needs.

"It is very concerning that the Government thought it appropriate to drag this case through the courts, for nearly three years, leaving Jacqui and Jayson scared and confused over their future in their home. With this ruling, they can now start to make future plans again."

Mr and Mrs Carmichael said: " We are overjoyed at the Supreme Court decision. We have been through almost four years of the sheer hell of the bedroom tax policy, and this decision vindicates our long and difficult fight.

"Out of this human rights victory over the bedroom tax we ask Theresa May to now reconsider the whole policy for everyone."

Sophie Earnshaw from the legal team at Child Poverty Action Group, which acts for the Rutherfords, said the ruling " at last establishes that disabled children have the same rights to accommodation for care as disabled adults. It is a just result - any other outcome would have been nonsensical".

Mr Rutherford said: "We are happy and hugely relieved with today's result. It has been an extremely stressful and long three years and we are glad that it has come to a close."

The four individuals who lost appeals were widower Richard Rourke, 49, from Derbyshire, who uses a wheelchair; James Daly, from Stoke, who has a severely disabled teenage son; single Mervyn Drage, from Manchester, who suffers from both mental and physical health problems, and a mother who can only be referred to as "JD" to protect the identity of her disabled adult daughter.

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