When a group of gypsies found that the housing benefit they received did not cover the full cost of their caravan pitches on a private caravan site, they claimed that it should and that the failure of the council to provide for this was discriminatory.
Had they been living on a council-owned site, their pitch charges would have been fully covered, but because they were not, the sum they were allocated was assessed by the council’s rent officer.
The gypsies claimed that this was a breach of their human rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and amounted to discriminatory treatment under Article 14 of the ECHR. Article 8 guarantees respect for private and family life and specifically requires public authorities not to interfere with that right except ‘in accordance with the law’ and where ‘necessary in a democratic society’ in pursuit of certain recognised, legitimate aims. Article 14 prohibits discrimination on various grounds.
Although the court agreed that the difference in payments did amount to discrimination, it ruled that this was objectively justified since private landlords can set any rent they choose, whereas a local council cannot.
Accordingly, there needs to be a different system for allocating the benefits payable in respect of rents paid to private landlords in order to prevent abuse of the system.