Protest over 'bedroom tax' ruling
A chorus of protest has greeted a High Court ruling that the Government is legally entitled to impose the so-called "bedroom tax" on disabled people in social housing.
National charities have warned that thousands of the most vulnerable in society are now in fear of homelessness, or having to go without food or heating to hang on to their homes.
The bedroom tax is in reality a cap on housing benefits introduced in April and aimed at tenants deemed to be living in social accommodation with extra bedrooms. Under new ''size criteria'', tenants with one spare bedroom have had a payment reduction of 14% and those deemed to have two or more spare, a reduction of 25%.
Expected to save about £500 million annually, the measure is part and parcel of the Government's deficit reduction strategy and bid to tackle "welfare dependency and unaffordable spending".
The Government says a system of additional funding in the form of discretionary housing payments (DHPs) through local authorities is in place for those in difficulties, including the disabled, but critics say the funds are insufficient.
Two judges at London's High Court ruled that applying the cap to the disabled was based on "a reasonable foundation" and lawful. The judges rejected arguments that the cap discriminated against the disabled because their spare rooms are often needed to store special equipment or to provide a bed for a care assistant.
Lord Justice Laws, sitting with Mr Justice Cranston, ruled the effects of the cap had been "properly considered" by work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith before he introduced it in April. The introduction of DHPs meant it could not be said to be a disproportionate approach, said the judge.
After the judgment, lawyers for ten disabled people who brought test cases said they would now go to the Court of Appeal. Richard Stein, from solicitors Leigh Day, said on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice: "Our clients are bitterly disappointed with today's decision, but they are not defeated. We, along with the other lawyers acting on behalf of adults with disabilities, will appeal this judgment and we remain confident that the discrimination which was recognised by the court and which has been perpetrated against our clients by this legislation is not justified and is unlawful."
A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman said: "We are pleased to learn that the court has found in our favour and agreed that we have fulfilled our equality duties to disabled people. Reform of housing benefit in the social sector is essential, so the taxpayer does not pay for people's extra bedrooms."
The spokesman added it was agreed before the High Court hearing in March that the Government would legislate for severely disabled children, and new regulations would be introduced next autumn.