Liberty begins legal challenge to bedroom tax

15 October 2014

Liberty’s Judicial Review of the Government’s controversial  “bedroom tax” policy will be heard today. The challenge is based on the impact on separated families with shared custody of children.

The scheme – part of wider welfare reforms – cuts residents’ Housing Benefit if they are deemed to have a “spare” room in their home. It has applied since April 2013 to all council or housing association tenants of working age. Under the rules, a child is only entitled to a bedroom in one home, even if their parents are separated. Liberty’s clients are challenging the lawfulness of the proposals – on the grounds they are irrational and a violation of Articles 8 and/or 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights; the right to a private and family life and no discrimination.

Rosie Brighouse, Legal Officer for Liberty, said: "We hear too often that the Human Rights Act – recently threatened with repeal – is a charter for terrorists and criminals. Yet here it is being used to challenge a policy penalising parents who share custody of their children. The bedroom tax punishes families that don’t conform to an outdated definition and is unfair, discriminatory and wrong."

The human rights group is representing three clients whose families will be adversely affected by the policy:

- Simon Cohen, from Gloucestershire, whose teenage son lives with him in his two-bedroom house approximately half of the time. Under the scheme his son is not considered part of his household – his room is therefore deemed “unoccupied”. Mr Cohen’s Housing Benefit has been cut by 14 per cent. He is left reliant on uncertain and temporary Discretionary Housing Payments from the local council, and facing the prospect of being forced to move into a one-bedroom property, where he cannot properly accommodate his son.

- Mark Hutchinson, from Derbyshire, whose nine-year-old daughter and 10-year-old stepson reside with him at weekends and during school holidays. Under the rules, he is considered to have two unoccupied rooms in his three-bedroom house and his Housing Benefit has been reduced by 25 per cent. This leaves him with a monthly shortfall of around £125 which he has to make up from his meagre benefits income, or from discretionary payments from the local council, or else face eviction.

- Kim Cotton, from Hampshire, who faced a 14 per cent cut in her Housing Benefit when the rules were introduced. Her custody arrangements have since changed but she remains concerned at the prospect that if her circumstances change again in the future she will be subject to the bedroom tax, despite needing bedrooms for her 12-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son.

Contact: Liberty Press Office on 020 7378 3656

NOTES TO EDITORS:

1. Liberty has been granted permission to bring a claim for Judicial Review regarding the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 as amended by the Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2012. It has been instructed by three individuals whose Housing Benefit has been reduced in accordance with Regulation B13 since 1 April 2013 and who wish to challenge the lawfulness of the Regulations on the grounds that they are irrational and/or violate Article 8 and/or Article 14 in conjunction with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The clients intend to seek relief, including a declaration that Regulation B13 should not apply to them and is invalid by reason of incompatibility with Articles 8 and/or 14 of the Convention.

2. The bedroom tax regulations provide that where a child lives between two households, the child is only entitled to a bedroom in the household where their parent or guardian receives Child Benefit on their behalf. Child Benefit can only be paid to one parent, so the parent who doesn’t receive the Child Benefit (and is more likely, on average, to be the father) has their Housing Benefit cut even if their ‘spare room’ is in fact their child’s bedroom.

3. Liberty submits that Article 8 requires the existing level of Housing Benefit to be preserved in order to enable family life to continue. It also argues that Regulation B13 is discriminatory under Article 14 on the grounds of its clients’ status as the “secondary” carer of their children and indirectly discriminatory on grounds of sex, given that in separated families the majority of resident parents are female while the majority of non-resident parents are male.