March 2014 – Discrimination is Justified
Two important case have been heard this week challenging the Government’s reform programme on the grounds of discrimination.
The first heard in the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal against the household benefit cap brought by two appellants who had fled violent marriages with their children.
Both families, having been unable to obtain local authority housing, live in overcrowded privately rented accommodation and, finding themselves caught by the £500 per week benefit cap, are liable for rents which they cannot avoid.
However, dismissing the appeal, the Court held that whilst the benefit cap policy discriminates against women, the discrimination is justified because it 'reflects the political judgment of the government.'
Responding to the judgment, Rebekah Carrier of Hopkin Murray Beskine Solicitors who represented the appellants said -
The benefit cap is already causing serious hardship to families across the country and to local authorities who are struggling to find accommodation for homeless families in crisis. It is not an exaggeration to say that the long term impact of the cap is going to trap some women and children in violent relationships, leave others hungry, homeless and isolated at times of crisis. The government seeks to justify the cap by the financial savings achieved but the long term consequences of this arbitrary benefit cap are likely to have not only devastating consequences for individual children but serious financial costs as the fallout impacts on other public services including social services, education and the justice system.
In a separate judgment, the Court of Appeal also ruled that, whilst the bedroom tax discriminates against people with disabilities who have a need for accommodation larger than the rules allow because of their disability, the discriminatory effect of the policy is justified.
The Court stated that it is satisfied that the needs of disabled people subject to the bedroom tax are being met by means of discretionary housing payments (DHPs) and that, for the appellants and other disabled persons in a similar situation, their needs for assistance with payment of their rent were in fact better dealt with by DHPs than housing benefit.
It is likely that these cases will go to the Supreme Court – we’ll keep you posted.