National charities have warned that thousands of the most vulnerable members of society will be threatened with homelessness, or having to go without food or heating, after the High Court upheld the lawfulness of a government cap on benefits which has been dubbed the ‘bedroom tax’ by campaigners.
The cap, which was introduced in April 2013 as part of the Government’s deficit reduction measures, limited the entitlement to housing benefit of tenants who were deemed to be living in social accommodation with more bedrooms than were required to meet their essential needs. Tenants with one spare bedroom faced a reduction in payments of 14 per cent and those with two were hit with a 25 per cent cut.
The measure was expected to save about £500 million annually and was hailed as a bid to tackle ‘welfare dependency and unaffordable spending’. The Government stated that a system of additional funding in the form of discretionary housing payments (DHPs), made through local authorities, was in place for those who experienced particular difficulties, including those with a disability, but critics argued that the funds were insufficient.
Dismissing a judicial review challenge to the cap, brought by a number of disabled individuals, the High Court ruled that the measure was based on ‘a reasonable foundation’ and was lawful. The Court rejected arguments that the cap discriminated against disabled people because their spare rooms are often needed to store special equipment or to provide a bed for a care assistant.
The impact of the measure on people with a disability had been ‘properly considered’ by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the introduction of DHPs as a back stop to prevent particular hardship to individuals meant that his approach could not be criticised as disproportionate.
After the Court’s ruling, a spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions 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 that the taxpayer does not pay for people’s extra bedrooms.”