Government wins bedroom battle


Published: Wednesday 22nd October 2014 by The News Editor

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The Government has won a legal battle over its refusal under the so-called “bedroom tax” rules to provide benefits funding so that children of separated couples can have two bedrooms, one in the home of each parent.

An application for judicial review was brought by three parents who have shared care arrangements with estranged partners and children living alternately with each parent.

Kim Cotton is a mother of two who lives in a three-bedroom house provided by the New Forest District Council; Mark Hutchinson also has two children and lives in a three-bedroom house provided by Derby City Council, and Simon Cohen has a son and lives in a two-bedroom house provided by Fosseway Housing Association in the Cirencester area.

Mr Justice Males, sitting in London, said the case was the latest of several legal challenges over what opponents refer to as the “bedroom tax” and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith calls the removal of the “spare room subsidy” from people living in social sector property.

All three parents, who are all either divorced or separated and claim housing benefits, argued that amendments to Government housing benefit regulations introduced in 2012 were breaching their human rights by threatening their care arrangements.

The 2012 regulations require housing benefit to be paid according to the number of bedrooms to which a claimant is entitled, and benefits are reduced if a room is deemed unoccupied, or spare.

If couples split, only one parent can claim for a child’s bedroom, and that is the parent in receipt of child benefit.

The new regulations, introduced in April last year, apply even when children spend approximately half their time with each parent and have a bedroom at each home.

The judge said it was likely that shared care arrangements – often the result of court orders – were “in the best interests of the children”, promoting their social and psychological development.

Discretionary housing payments (DHPs) were currently available to make up the amount of housing payments lost by the applicants, who the judge described as having “secondary responsibility” for their children as they were not receiving child benefit.

If the DHPs were stopped, said the judge, there was a “high risk” that shared residence arrangements could not continue, with an adverse impact on both children and parents who might have to move to smaller properties.

But the judge said Parliament, when introducing the new regulations, was alive to their impact.

Dismissing the legal challenge, he rejected submissions that they were irrational and breached the Article 8 right to family life under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The judge said he recognised “the difficulties the claimants may face”. But the situation fell short of an interference with Article 8.

It also could not be irrational “to determine in current economic circumstances that, in the absence of particular hardship, the state should pay housing benefit at a level which provides a room for a child to one carer only”.

Whether that was an appropriate policy was a matter for Parliament.

A DWP spokesman 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.”

Published: Wednesday 22nd October 2014 by The News Editor

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