The government has withdrawn an appeal to the Supreme Court that – if successful – would have meant that families could no longer claim enough housing benefit to pay for separate bedrooms for disabled children with high support needs.
The decision by the Conservative work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith followed a week in which the prime minister had used the court ruling to try to show that his government was supporting disabled children, even though it was attempting to have the judgment overturned.
The Court of Appeal ruled last year that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had breached the Human Rights Act by stating that local authorities could not provide housing benefit for the extra bedrooms needed by four young disabled people living in private rented accommodation.
Duncan Smith had been seeking to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, but decided this week to withdraw his appeal.
Linda Burnip, whose son Ian is one of the four young people, said it was “very satisfying” that DWP had withdrawn its appeal, following a five-year legal battle.
She said: “This case reinforces disabled people’s right to not be discriminated against within the benefits system and also affirms their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”
Her son’s lawyers, Irwin Mitchell, said the “landmark” Court of Appeal judgment clearly set out how to “ensure that disabled people are not discriminated against by the government’s benefit system”.
The decision to drop the appeal means the government’s controversial “bedroom tax” will now not apply when a disabled child with high support needs is unable to share a bedroom with a sibling for impairment-related reasons.
The bedroom tax – to be introduced on 1 April – will see benefits cut if a household in social housing is judged to have more bedrooms than they need.
DWP yesterday (Wednesday) issued new guidance for local authorities, which lays out how local authorities will decide if children should not have to share a bedroom, and will apply in both social housing and private rented accommodation.
Irwin Mitchell said it was “disappointed” that the guidance did not protect other disabled people, such as couples who are unable to share a bedroom, who will “continue to be discriminated against” by the bedroom tax.
Polly Sweeney, Ian Burnip’s solicitor, said: “We believe the government has not properly understood the serious impact of these changes on some of the most vulnerable people in society, and would urge them to think again.”
Despite the decision to drop the appeal, Duncan Smith claimed there had been “no climb-downs at all” by his department.
He told Channel 4 News: “These are adjustments already because of the court case over the severely disabled children for local housing allowance [housing benefit] so this is nothing to do with it. This is a reality. We simply put the guidance out there to say this reality exists.”
It is still unclear what impact the appeal decision will have on a different court case, an attempt by 10 individuals and families to seek a judicial review of the impact of the bedroom tax on disabled people.
Anne McMurdie, who represents three of the claimants – a disabled man with a mental health condition, the father of a disabled child who shares caring duties with the child’s mother, and a disabled woman cared for by a parent in a significantly-adapted property – said the government’s announcement was “not entirely clear in many respects as to how it will work and who is covered”.
McMurdie, from Public Law Solicitors in Birmingham, said the government had until the end of Monday (18 March) to produce its written response to the judicial review claims.
She said: “At that point we hope to have a clear picture about what concessions or exemptions apply in these cases and to whom and whether the regulations themselves will be amended. Once we have this info we can decide how to go forward.”
14 March 2013