Home » Triumph on discriminatory ‘bedroom tax’

Triumph on discriminatory ‘bedroom tax’

‘Almost crying with happiness’: T he Rutherfords have fought for carers across the UK
‘Almost crying with happiness’: T he Rutherfords have fought for carers across the UK
‘Almost crying with happiness’: The Rutherfords have fought for carers across the UK

IN A BLOW to the UK’s Conservative government and a victory for carers for the disabled, the High Court in London has decided that the bedroom tax is unfair and discriminatory against the disabled and their carers.

In a judgement which wholly rejects representations made by the Department for Work and Pensions, a panel of judges led by Lord Chief Justice Tomlinson found in favour of a Pembrokeshire couple who had brought the action.

The successful appeal against a lower Court’s decision was made by Paul and Susan Rutherford, acting as litigation friends for the grandson, Warren.

Paul and Susan Rutherford from Pembrokeshire who care for their 14-year-old grandson Warren in a specially adapted home that includes a room for professional carers to stay in overnight, had their housing benefit reduced as they were deemed to have a spare bedroom. Warren, suffers from Potokoi-Shaffer Syndrome, a very rare genetic disorder which means he is unable to walk or talk, and needs 24 hour care by at least two people at all times.

The Conservatives’ bedroom tax meant that a bedroom used by overnight carers who look after him was counted as an additional bedroom whose presence in the family home was surplus to the family’s requirements.

Opposition politicians in Wales were swift to hail the result of the court case.

Rebecca Evans AM, Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales, sent her heartfelt congratulations to Paul, Susan and Warren on the news.

Following the Court of Appeal decision, Mrs Evans said: “I am delighted for the Rutherfords. Having visited them at home and discussed their situation I know how long and hard-fought this battle has been. It has long been clear to me that the ‘hated Bedroom tax’ is discriminatory.

“Let there be no mistake, the bedroom tax is nothing more than an ideological attack on struggling households. It is a disgrace that the majority of affected households have disabled residents. Once again, the UK Government is hitting the most vulnerable people hardest.”

Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Simon Thomas said: “The bedroom tax is a cruel policy that has been widely discredited, and criticised by United Nations inspectors as being inhumane. This latest judgement has to be welcome. Plaid Cymru has opposed the bedroom tax at every opportunity in Westminster.”

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Simon Thomas continued: “The Rutherford family are to be congratulated for the compassion and care they have shown their grandson and the way they have been prepared to fight this case, even though the bedroom tax was being met by a discretionary housing payment in their circumstances. They should be awarded a medal for the way they have dedicated their lives, not penalised for having a room in the house to accommodate overnight carers.

“Families with disabled members need to be exempted from the tax immediately. Many homes occupied by disabled individuals and families have been adapted for their use at public expense. It is a nonsense to force them to move.”

William Powell, Welsh Liberal Democrat for AM for Mid and West Wales, told The Herald: “All the evidence shows that the so-called bedroom tax is unfair and needs radical reform. Despite this, the Tories stick their heads in the sand and continue to punish the most vulnerable in our society.

“The Welsh Liberal Democrats believe in protecting the most vulnerable people, which is why we have argued that disabled adults and children should be permanently exempt from this policy. This is a particular concern to parents of children and young people with autism and related conditions, as members of NAS Pembrokeshire Branch have raised with me.

“There can be no question that reform is needed, so that people who are unable to downsize because of the lack of an alternative home aren’t hit by this cut in their Housing Benefit.”

Owen Smith MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “I’ve met Paul and spoke about his brave struggle at Labour conference. The fight his family have led against the Bedroom Tax should be an inspiration for all of us to stand up and campaign for what’s right.

“This victory in the Court of Appeal is a massive blow to the Tories’ Bedroom Tax. It provides a glimmer of hope for the hundreds of thousands of people who have been hit by this cruel policy.”

Secretary of State for Wales Stephen Crabb told us: “As made clear by the DWP following today’s judgement, the Government has committed to giving local councils over £870 million in extra funding over the next five years so that they can offer payments to families in difficult circumstances to ensure they don’t lose out. The Rutherford family were receiving these payments from Pembrokeshire County Council, meaning they were being awarded the same amount of housing benefit as before the reforms were introduced.

“The discretionary housing payments system is an effective safety net that helps support vulnerable residents as welfare reforms are introduced. Local councils must act fairly and reasonably when considering whether to offer the discretionary payment.”

The point made by Mr Crabb – that discretionary direct housing payments (DHP – in respect to which the Court noted future commitment is ‘uncertain’) are sufficient for the state to discharge its burden of care was one rejected by the Court. It is legal argument over whether a discretionary and temporary policy, such as DHP, can displace the absolute requirement not to discriminate against members of an easily identifiable group under UK law, which is likely to dominate any appeal the government launches against the Court decision.

Lord Justice Tomlinson and Lord Justice Vos, also pointed out that the “admitted discrimination” in each case “has not been justified by the Secretary of State”

Leading disability charity the Papworth Trust, which has been campaigning since 2013 for a fairer system for disabled people affected by the bedroom tax Papworth Trust welcomed the Court of Appeal ruling.

The charity’s research found that nine in 10 disabled people were being forced to cut back on food or pay household bills after being refused emergency housing payments to help them pay the spare room subsidy. It made written submissions in support of the Rutherfords at an earlier hearing.

Vicky McDermott, chief executive of Papworth Trust, said: “Ensuring disabled people do not lose out under the ‘bedroom tax’ policy has long been a priority for Papworth Trust.

“We have worked closely with concerned families, like the Rutherford’s, and have seen first-hand the worry and angst this has caused.

“We heard from families who were considering downsizing, even though it would mean their quality of life would drastically suffer, while others saw their spare room as a crucial lifeline to sleep carers or house disability equipment like wheelchairs and hoists.

“So we are delighted with the Court of Appeal ruling and how it will directly help Paul, Sue and Warren as well as disabled youngsters and their families in the future.”

Emily Holzhausen, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at Carers UK, gave a statement of evidence in the original case which was referenced in the Court’s judgment. Ms Holzhausen argued that families who have a clear need for additional bedrooms for a carer should be entitled to an additional room; and that alternatives suggested by the government – such as moving to smaller accommodation or taking in a lodger – are not appropriate for carers.

Carers UK told The Herald that 60,000 carers are currently affected by the bedroom tax.

Heléna Herklots, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said: “This policy is having a catastrophic impact on families, many of whom are already struggling practically, emotionally and financially to care for seriously-ill or disabled loved ones.

“Carers UK has argued that the policy unfairly penalises carers since it was first introduced in April 2013. Our research shows that those carers who are affected by the bedroom tax are being left unable to pay their electricity and heating bills and some families are falling behind on their rent and facing eviction.

“Following today’s ruling, we urge the Government to amend the regulations to protect carers and their families. The policy is clearly having a devastating impact on vulnerable families and the Government cannot allow this to continue.”

Mr Rutherford told the BBC: “I’m a bit lost for words. I could almost cry with happiness.

“It was just so unfair, somebody had to do something to get the law changed, or the situation changed.”

He added: “We’re all saving the government millions of pounds between us and we need looking after and helping, rather than penalising. us.”

We invited a comment from local Conservative AMs Paul Davies and Angela Burns. Our request was not acknowledged and no statement was received from them at the time this article went to press.